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After The Floods, CSA Production Lags; Membership Steadies

07/15/11 5:30PM By Samantha Fields
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VPR/Sam Fields
A sign at the Intervale Community Supported Agriculture farm in Burlington keeps customers posted on the latest available crops.
(Host) More and more Vermonters are joining Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA farms. When members sign up, they commit for the season, and pay the farm several hundred dollars up front. In exchange, they get fresh, locally grown produce - whatever's in season.

But some CSA farms were hit hard by flooding this spring, and so far it's been a challenge to deliver what they'd promised their members.

VPR's Samantha Fields reports.

(Mimi Arnstein) "See, look how large our potatoes are! The potato plants are in flower now, these beautiful purple flowers now over that green foliage. They're gorgeous! ... It was so wet here! It's amazing, it's amazing."

(Fields) Mimi Arnstein owns Wellspring Farm CSA in Marshfield. Walking around the fields, she loves to point out just how green everything looks and how the plants are thriving. It's not a particularly unusual sight, but she's amazed, considering how these fields looked in May.

(Arnstein) "We had potatoes literally rolling out of the field. Potatoes that had been planted three to four inches underground were coming down our farm road, escaping from the field. It really looked as if a small river had come through the field in different areas and it pulled a lot of soil, a lot of organic matter, out of the fields and into the farm roads."

(Fields) The torrential rains this spring claimed some of Wellspring's early crops and delayed the planting of many others.

But much to Arnstein's surprise, the fields have dried out pretty well. Not that long after the Great Potato Escape, she actually had to irrigate.

Now, the fields are dotted with bright orange zucchini blossoms and rows of young green leaves. And there are loads of snap peas hiding under delicate white flowers, ready to be picked and eaten.

VPR/Sam Fields
Mimi Arnstein, the owner of Wellspring Farm CSA in Marshfield, examines her crops.
(Arnstein) "These survived the storm! These are storm survivor peas!"

(Fields) Arnstein says her members have been incredibly supportive this year, even though their first couple pick-ups were lighter than usual.

(Arnstein) "It was really inspiring to have our first CSA pickup. Because so many people came to get their produce, marveled at how beautiful it looked, marveled at the abundance, and said, ‘We can't believe you have anything at all!'"

(Fields) The same has been true of the members of the Intervale CSA farm in Burlington.

(Andy Jones) "Hello. How are you?"
(Customer) "So I see you've got flowers today!" (Andy Jones) "Yeah, we have a few!"

(Fields) The Intervale was hit particularly hard this spring. All of their strawberries and snap peas were wiped out, along with the herbs.

 

Becky Maden is a farmer at the Intervale. She says it's those crops, the pick-your-own, that have been hit the hardest.

(Maden) "Normally this time of year, people come and they're spending a lot of time in our fields picking peas and strawberries, parsley, dill, cilantro, flowers. And people make an event of coming to our farm and spending time in the fields and that's really been kind of the heartbreak, and I think that's where our membership is feeling it."

(Fields) Also noticeably missing for this time of year is broccoli, cabbage, chard, kale.

On the second week of pickups, the Intervale does have plenty of other things - lots of lettuce and mixed greens, a few garlic scapes, some spinach, the first zucchini and summer squash.

But everyone acknowledges it's not what it should be.

Because of that, the Intervale decided to offer its members a full refund this year, if they wanted one.

Some people took them up on it - a few who had signed up for the first time this season; others for financial reasons. But not that many.

(Maden) "We've had maybe 10 people out of 545 ask for refunds. So it's a very small percentage."

(Fields) Jamie Edwards-Orr has been a member at the Intervale for about 10 years. She said she never even considered opting for a refund.

(Edwards-Orr) "We have been members long enough that we just understand that this is a farm, and this is what happens to farmers. I'm lucky enough I can afford to share that. I don't mind sharing that risk because I think it's important to support farmers, too."

(Fields) For the farmers at the Intervale, like Becky Maden, seeing that kind of support from their members has been an incredible thing.

(Maden) "It's been really powerful. I just kept thinking, ‘What other business?' I mean we're a business. If you go into a coffee shop and they're like, ‘Look we don't have any coffee. Sorry, things are kind of rough right now.' I would walk out. I think we're in such a unique time in agriculture and such a unique place and that's been kind of striking me over and over again."

(Fields) With the recent spate of drier, sunnier days, farmers say they're more optimistic now about the rest of the season then they were just a few weeks ago.

But if this spring has proven anything, they say it's that you never know what nature will throw at you.

For VPR News, I'm Samantha Fields.

VPR/Sam Fields

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community_supported_agriculture lake_champlain_flood environment cities
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