CSAs: From Fall River to Falmouth

The Skinny Dip Farm greenhouse is unheated, but it still allows the Westport farm to grow straight through the winter. On sunny days it gets hot fast, so the greenhouse sides have to be rolled up to provide ventilation. (Skinny Dip Farm)

The Skinny Dip Farm greenhouse is unheated, but it still allows the Westport farm to grow straight through the winter. On sunny days it gets hot fast, so the greenhouse sides have to be rolled up to provide ventilation. (Skinny Dip Farm)

Southeastern Massachusetts farms provide a bounty of seasonal tastes

By JOYCE ROWLEY/ecoRI News contributor

The snow is almost gone and the official first day of spring is just days away. Now is a great time to buy shares in this coming summer’s harvest. Some local farms even have a spring harvest ready to go.

It’s a simple concept: invest in local farming and get a share of the bounty. Community-supported agriculture (CSA) farmers receive two benefits: income at a time when there’s little harvest but substantial capital outlay for seed, soil amendments, repairs to irrigation and payroll; and guaranteed buyers for their harvest. CSAs also are an investment in supporting sustainable land-use practices.

Consumers benefit from knowing the farmer, the farm, how the food is produced and how far it has traveled. Plus the healthy enjoyment of getting a selection of just-picked farm-fresh vegetables every week from June to October. A growing number of farmers also are providing two- and three-season shares.

“A lot of farmers rely on CSAs to buy seeds and fertility for the ground,” said Hannah Wolbach of Skinny Dip Farm in Westport. “There’s usually a lot of costs in the spring, but not a lot of income.”

Hannah and Ben Wolbach have been farming for more than 20 years, and offering subscriptions to their certified-organic farm since 2011. This year, they  are offering two seasons of salad greens and root vegetables grown in a 96-foot-by-30-foot-high greenhouse on their 6-acre farm.

“The greenhouse isn't heated but the varieties are freeze-thaw tolerant,” Hannah said about the plants that are in the soil, not potted or hydroponically grown.

Skinny Dip offers 20-30 shares. Pick-up locations for the produce are in Little Compton, R.I., and Adamsville, Westport and Plimoth Plantation. While it's better to buy shares as early in the season as possible, Wolbach said, customers can buy in right through mid-season, if shares remain available.

Brix Bounty Farm in Dartmouth isn’t certified organic, but uses no pesticides or synthetic fertilizer. Instead, the farm is based on a holistic view of farming that looks at the nutritional value of the vegetables measured by “brix,” or amount of light reflected back from sugar content and minerals in the vegetable. The higher the brix, the more dense the nutrients. The farm's name comes from the philosophy of creating a fertile farm that shares the earth’s bounty.

“The CSA takes someone through the entire growing season to harvest,” said the farm’s owner, Derek Christianson. “For example, last year spring cabbage did well. We encourage customers to enjoy the bounty by providing recipes for what’s harvested.”

Brix Bounty Farm in Dartmouth started selling its 100 CSA shares in January. (Brix Bounty Farm)

Brix Bounty Farm in Dartmouth started selling its 100 CSA shares in January. (Brix Bounty Farm)

The farm is six years into a 10-year plan for soil fertility, so it grows crops more naturally. Creating fertility means addressing mineral deficiencies and the biology or amount of access plants have to micronutrients in the soil, according to Christianson.

“Our soils are digestive vehicles for our plants,” he said. “So it’s incumbent upon us that we inoculate our soils the same way we would our own digestive systems.”

The idea is to create long-term sustainability for the soil so the farm can continue to produce nutrient-dense food.

Christianson compares his 6-acre farm to an oversized kitchen garden, where different crops do well each year. The farm’s 100 shares started selling in January. A share supplies 8-12 vegetables for a family that cooks six or seven nights a week and enjoys multiple servings of vegetables. Brix Bounty shares also include a “pick-your-own” component and, for the second year in a row, is offering non-GMO sweet corn.

The 40-acre Round the Bend Farm, also in Dartmouth, is part of the Marion Institute’s programs to implement sustainable practices of resiliency, zero-waste design and diversity. The Marion Institute is a nonprofit philanthropic organization that seeks root-cause solutions and acts as an incubator for innovative projects in southeastern Massachusetts.

Farmers Geoff Kinder and Ashley Brister are the sole proprietors of the farming operations: Kinder produces beef, pork and chicken, and Brister farms about an acre of vegetables. Brister has 20 shares available on a sliding scale for a 22- week season starting in June.

“It’s a working farm,” said Liz Wiley, program manager for Round the Bend. “We are also in the process of building an educational center for food learning — like a living laboratory — on the farm.”

Bay End Farm, first farmed in 1906, has been operating as a certified-organic CSA for 12 years. David Ingersoll, CSA manager and owner of the 5-acre farm in Bourne, began selling shares earlier this month. But the farm usually closes out early, with payment of the first installment due by April 1.

Ingersoll said the farm doesn’t do half-shares, but encourages people to double up with friends and families if they think a share may be too large.

“We provide enough for a family of two or three to have a full vegetable dish every day for each vegetable,” he said.

Bay End Farm has drop-off locations in Cambridge and Plymouth and on the Cape.

For that spring season harvest, try Silverbrook Farm in Dartmouth. Manger Andy Pollock said the farm uses a cooperative model with five participating local farms, including 65 acres on four parcels that comprises Silverbrook.

One of the oldest farms in the region, dating back to 1690, Silverbrook Farm set up its spring 2015 shares with Farmigo, a farmers’ online shopping program that lets them choose the size of the share, the pick-up location and payment schedule.

Silverbrook’s 10-week program is available in full-share, half-share or quarter-share. If the farm’s shares are sold out, customers can buy prepaid debit cards for the farm stand, another way to support the operation.

For a thorough list of southeastern Massachusetts farms, click here.