Featured Farm: Common Harvest Farm CSA
Common Harvest Farm is a family-owned and operated, sustainable Community Supported Agriculture (CSA – a term later explained in this article) farm set on 40 acres of diverse and fertile land in the St. Croix River Valley near Osceola, WI. This is our second on-location interview, and we walk through the details of CSA farming while Margaret Pennings and Dan Guenthner share their incredible journey of building a fruitful, small-scale produce farm.
When I arrived at Common Harvest Farm, I was immediately struck by its tranquility and its abundance of life: flowers grow along the red barn, the white farm house, and the outbuildings; happy farm dogs greet you with tails wagging; fields of vegetables in colorful rows line the rolling hills; and friendly people welcome you into their lives. Common Harvest Farm is made up of 40 acres of diverse river valley terrain; on 12 of those acres, 40 varieties of vegetables and herbs grow. They built their lovely farm on the foundation of CSA ideals: Community. Supported. Agriculture. Margaret and Dan uphold these values in all their farming.
If you are not familiar with the term CSA, here is a brief overview: “A farmer offers a certain number of ‘shares’ to the public. Typically the share consists of a box of vegetables…. Interested consumers purchase a share (aka a ‘membership’) and in return receive a box of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season” (http://www.localharvest.org/csa/).
For Margaret and Dan, CSA farming is more than fresh produce in a box. It is truly a lifestyle. According to Margaret, “It’s about connecting with the land, being involved in life systems, and stewardship of the land.” Stewardship of the land means practicing sustainable farming methods at Common Harvest Farm. The 12 acres of produce gardens are hand-weeded and seeded using Stanley Jr. – the farm’s non-motorized direct-seeder. They amend the soil with compost from local and organic Crystal Ball Farms, natural fertilizers, and soil-improving cover crops. The vegetables grow naturally, without pesticides or herbicides.
Common Harvest Farm is committed to long term, earth-friendly energy solutions. Solar panels provide all of the energy for the farm, including the electricity needed for the irrigation system. To conserve water resources, they irrigate over night and irrigate just one garden section at a time. “We irrigate just enough to keep the wolf from the door,” Margaret laughed. “We also charge an electric tractor, so we like the idea of the sun powering our cultivating tractor.”
The freestanding solar panels are located on the south side of the greenhouse. “We considered a roof mount,” said Margaret, “but Kris Schmidt of Legacy Solar recommended a ground-mounted rack for a couple of reasons: it is easier to remove snow in the winter, and they are actually a bit more efficient because there is more air movement around the panels during hot weather when the panels are not as effective.”
Common Harvest Farm’s productivity comes from sustainable farming activities and the hard work of their daughters, Annie and Grace; their son, William; and this season, two interns, Kathleen Hobert and Amy Shaunette. As a working community, they put in long hours together amending the soil, planting seeds, and harvesting and packaging the produce. This skilled labor brings them closer, uniting them as a family. They also bond over the experience of sharing meals together. “We take an hour for lunch,” Margaret said. “We take a long break together to rest and eat well, to sit and visit, and to connect with one another over good food.”
Margaret and Dan are warm and generous, and they extend the term “community” to each and every person they meet. They focus on strengthening relationships with their members and connecting with those who share their way of life. “Community is very important,” Margaret expressed. “As a farmer working the land, experiencing nature in its richest form to grow healthy vegetables, and connecting with others to share what Earth provided, we have a whole different sense of people forming community around food.”
Growing fresh vegetables and sharing their produce with others is first nature for Margaret and Dan. In addition to the vegetables provided for members, they also work with local food shelves to provide for those in need. Margaret said, “We feel it is important for everyone to have access to fresh produce, and when we have extra it just makes sense to share it.”
Life on a CSA farm is an investment. As a farmer or a member, one invests in the land, sustainability, quality vegetables, and supporting local and small-scale farmers. “As a CSA member, it’s about shared risk,” Margaret explained. “Consumers participate in sharing the risk of farming: they eat locally and eat seasonally, and they accept what comes from the garden. Members participate in growing and being a partner with the environment.”
More information about Common Harvest Farm – its history, the farmers, the philosophy, and the history of the CSA movement – visit http://commonharvestfarm.com.
-Photography by professional photographer Kelsea Fehlen – http://www.kelseafehlen.com/