A new word, "locavore," defines a growing number of people interested in eating seasonal, local and organic food. The explosion in farmers markets and specialty produce markets is testimony that many consumers are seeking a closer connection to the sources of their food.
There are many reasons for this trend, including concerns about food safety and the environmental impacts of eating large-scale, commercially grown food. Research suggests that locally grown foods can also have positive impacts on the local economy by requiring local labor for farming and processing activities. However, farming is pretty much a year-round activity that produces profits only at harvest, so many small farmers find themselves at best economically challenged during growing seasons and at worst shutting down operations.
Happy Hollow Farm in Jamestown, MO, is trying a more creative approach to farming. The 100 percent certified organic farm, owned by "Farmer Liz" Graznak and her partner, Katie, participates in what is known as Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). CSA farms allow their customers to purchase a share of the crops prior to harvest; in return they receive a weekly box of fresh-picked produce.
"I always describe CSAs as similar to co-ops. You have to pay up-front, and in return you get produce during the 25-week growing season, which lasts from mid-May through the end of October. I also offer an eight-week winter season that starts at the end of the fall," Graznak explains.
The prepayments that she receives from her CSA members allow her to purchase seasonal materials without going into debt. Additionally, all members are generally required to work a few hours on the farm to help harvest, wash and pack the weekly CSA boxes. This reduces labor costs and enables people to directly connect with the farm. The farm also hosts member get-togethers and celebrations, always with plenty of good food. Graznak believes Happy Hollow embodies an ideal partnership between farmers and consumers.
She points to the many benefits of joining a CSA, such as the knowledge that the produce you receive is fresh, local and already paid for — completely avoiding the cost for packaging, marketing and long-distance travel.
"Eating seasonally is a huge part of belonging to a CSA," says Graznak. "Members receive a wide variety of veggies depending on the season. You might get fennel for two weeks in the spring, and you won't see it again until the fall."
The Happy Hollow Farm weekly newsletter announces what will be delivered that week and the website provides information on food preservation, a member recipe exchange and farm news. "Members have an opportunity to develop a direct and personal connection between themselves and the people who are growing the food that is sitting on their table," explains Graznak.
Although she has always been a passionate gardener, Graznak admits that her real interest in CSAs did not bloom until she actually joined one 11 years ago when she was earning her master's degree in plant breeding at Cornell University. "I've always really loved gardening, but when I first joined a CSA and found out about the whole world of agriculture, I was amazed that people were making a living farming. I thought, 'You know, I want to do that'! Luckily I met key individuals that encouraged me to get experience on a farm before buying my own farm. For a year I worked for the owner of Ashland's The Salad Garden."
Graznak also spent six years working at Columbia's Superior Garden Center to save up for her own farm. She has been a full-time farmer for three years now.
Her success can also be attributed to the remarkable effort Graznak devotes to the Happy Hollow CSA. "If it's not farming-related, then it's forming the relationships, developing plans and just running the day-to-day of a business. And on top of that you have to market yourself; there is so much member communication that needs to take place. I'm involved in all of it. That is the biggest challenge — just getting the word out about the farm. It is such a new thing and people need to know about it," she says.
Membership in Happy Hollow Farm's CSA has grown steadily over the past three years. She hopes to continue growing the membership, pointing out that only 4.5 acres of the 82-acre farm are now cultivated. "I hope it's not just a fad," says Graznak, "I do worry about that. I think the trend says something about the fact that we as a society have a desire to return to farming as it was. The more small farms that can stay in business and develop, the higher likelihood that we as small farmers will have an impact on changing how consumers get their food to the dinner table."
That worry does not show through her enthusiasm and belief in the farm she is working to build. "Through Happy Hollow Farm, my goal of growing healthy, organic food and sharing it with a community of people that share my enthusiasm and commitment to a local food system is being achieved."
Learn more about Happy Hollow Farm by visiting www.happyhollowfarm-mo.com.
This story was featured in the June 2012 newsletter
- Sagar Patel, Missouri Environmental Assistance Center