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A Conversation about Community Supported Agriculture
Monthly Feature, June, 2017.
Interview and editing by the 2100 project and Tori Williams
A Conversation about Community Supported Agriculture
Monthly Feature, June, 2017.
Interview and editing by the 2100 project and Tori Williams

Photo courtesy of Craig Jensen.

For this month’s feature, we sat down for a conversation with three farmers (Grace Glasson, Craig Jensen, and Jack Rixey) who use sustainable practices and sell their goods locally through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). All three live and work in the Monadnock Region of southwest New Hampshire. The conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.

How did you first get into farming?

Jack: I started working at Tracie’s Farm two years ago, it was my first job working a farm. My father had always had a big garden in our back yard; he would sell to restaurants in town. I went to college for sociology, so I wasn’t on a farm for a long time, or on a property with a farm for a long time, but I ended up working for a tree farm in Vermont. When I left that job I was in Nebraska taking a vacation, reading Wendell Berry’s The Unsettling of America and being there and being surrounded by massive large-scale corn producing farms and cattle breeding farms, it smelled bad. Being there and being around those farms while reading this book made me really realize that this was something I wanted to do and wanted to be a part of. So after that I started working for Tracie’s Farm.

Grace: I graduated in 2014, studying Women and Gender Studies. As graduation was approaching I was trying to figure out what my place was in activism and fighting for justice. I started thinking about food justice and food access and didn’t know anything about agriculture and had never worked on a farm before, but found myself gravitating towards that idea of radicalizing food and connecting people through food. It’s important to get good food to as many people as possible, especially in a time when it’s quite trendy and expensive to eat well. I found Tracie’s Farm through the Bates College alumni network. I’ve been at Tracie’s ever since.

Craig: I’m from a suburb in New Jersey, about 20 minutes outside of Manhattan. We had a small garden, but I didn’t know any farmers, there were no farms in my town. I went to college in Worcester and I did a senior project on the history of Holy Cross and how they had this idea of being an isolated and protected community. They grew their own crops and I thought that was really interesting so I spent my senior year looking into why that changed and that’s what got me more interested in farming. I wanted to work on a farm but had no practical experience, so I started teaching high school at the Meeting School in town. I took that job because it was a farm based school program and that was my intro to farming, I worked there for six years. When I left I worked in farming for several years, but eventually came back to the Meeting School. When the school closed, my wife and I bought it and changed the farm program into a CSA. This is currently our 7th CSA year.

What do you see as the most important way or ways that local farming helps reduce negative impacts on the planet?

Grace: I guess the first thing that I think about is closed systems of food and how farmers and communities can depend on each other. For example, If you’re a dairy farmer and I’m a vegetable farmer there can be an exchange there of knowledge and goods. And making those connections involves less shipping of food across the country.

Craig: Just a moment ago Grace was talking about coming to farming as an activist and looking for an activist angle. When I think about farming, I think about it as long-term activism. What we’re trying to do by growing food and providing more food access is to provide a lifestyle alternative. Not all of our customers are going to be or should be farmers, but we hope that they get an encounter with farming as a lifestyle that is a really different and real alternative. You can live a good life, you can live simply, it can be hard and that can be real. Just like work is real. Farming is a version of right living. I think part of what we’re trying to do is offer that little glimpse of what good life or good living can be.

I guess local farming is one model of a way of living on the planet that doesn’t tie into systems and lifestyles with lots of negative impacts.

Craig: Sure, and specifically, the way that we farm is direct to consumer; we’re a having a relationship with the end user; we’re having conversations all through that process and that’s a model that could be used for all necessary goods. Farming is this first point access window, but I think most people that experience us as a CSA realize that there’s something really real here. Our style of farming is not showing the activism of saying no to something, it’s showing the activism that says yes. Start here, you don’t have to be a farmer, but take this model and find the CSA version of whatever you do.

To what extent do you think your customers are coming to your CSAs because they care about sustainability issues versus just really loving the food, or is it a combination? Do conversations come up about impacts of local versus industrial farming?

Jack: I definitely think it’s a combination. I would say I’ve had those types of conversations with some of our customers. I wouldn’t say it’s a normal conversation with customers, but I do try to get to know customers better and can talk to them about those things. I think it’s a good thing that there’s a mix of reasons for signing up for CSAs. Some people are concerned with the impact on the planet, some people just really enjoy this kind of food. They think it tastes better and that’s just another way of reaching people and regardless of how, we’re still reaching these families and that’s special.

Grace: A conversation that I’ve had with a few people at Tracie’s is that some people have been members for years, since Tracie first started and knocked on doors to sell shares. This comes back to how this is about community. It’s the relationship with your farmer. I believe people like to know and trust the person that they’re buying from and have a good relationship with them. And this relationship can be a door to get to those conversations about why people are CSA members, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be about the need to be sustainable and save the planet. Sometimes people aren’t there yet. Maybe we can talk about that, but either way I feel that they’re eating good food, and that’s great.

Do you think there’s room for growth in this type of agriculture in the Monadnock Region or the rest of New Hampshire?

Craig: I’s so hard to anticipate the buying trends, but we only feed 100 families. Tracie’s Farm feeds 400, that’s only 500 between the towns of Jaffrey and Rindge. So if you want to talk about potential in the market, there are literally thousands of people and we only touch a small fraction.

Grace: I do think there’s a reputation of CSAs as being expensive and for rich white people and that others can’t afford it. There’s a cultural stereotype of what someone who buys food from a CSA looks like. I think having more programs to make CSAs accessible would be great. You don’t have to look like anything or be like anything to eat good stuff that people are growing next door.

Craig: I do worry a little bit, I don’t want CSAs to be a fad. The model has been around a long time, I hope it doesn’t lose the degree of popularity it currently has. The CSA model is the best model for a farm and when I look at farmers markets around here for the last fifteen years, and all throughout New England, they’ve really grown and there are markets in nearly every town. That’s not a farm supportive idea. Ten to twelve years ago you could go to farmer’s markets in Hancock, Peterborough, or Keene, and that was it, there was nobody else. Then, five years later Rindge, Jaffrey, everybody had started a market; it didn’t add customers, it just added more places that farmers had to go to get those customers. So I do worry about trends and fads and the consequences they have on farmers.

Do you think there’s enough good farmland in the region for additional CSAs if demand grows in the future?

Jack: A lot of people around here have a lot of land that they want something done with, but they don’t want to farm themselves so they lease it out to farmers. Farmer John uses somebody else’s land. The Monadnock Conservancy has programs that put young farmers in touch with people that are looking to have a farm on their land. There’s a lot of land like that. Tracie’s Farm shoots for four hundred families in the CSA, but we could probably feed more than that.

Grace: Yes, and it also depends on the season, but even with the drought last summer, we had some months that were crazy we had so much food. We were giving people way over value which was great for them, that’s awesome, we were also donating a lot to the community kitchen. At some point you have to navigate, we put aside a lot of money for seed and labor, we need to get that back. We could definitely take more customers. I hope more people start to come.

Do you have any other parting ideas that you’d like to share with people who don’t know a lot about CSAs or local agriculture?

Jack: As far as growing your own garden goes, just do it! It’s a lot of fun, you don’t need a lot of space to get food for one person. Or you could give your extra food to your neighbor. When I started I had two tomato plants and I couldn’t use all of the tomatoes I grew, and I planted way too much food with six kale plants. My space was only about 5 feet by 10 feet, with basil plants, tomato plants, flowers, all kinds of things and it’s really easy to grow what you need right outside your kitchen. I have a compost pile, but you don’t even need that, you can throw your scraps right into your garden. Join a CSA, it supports us, or just do it yourself because it’s good.

Grace: Maybe grow your herbs and come down to us for your vegetables. And I stand by all of what Jack said. I think my big thing is engaging with any people you know who are involved in agriculture, farming or just gardening at their house. Since working at Tracie’s and really learning what growing food looks like, I just want everybody to eat good food and know where it’s coming from. For example, I really love that program that ran last year with kids from Keene Public Housing; just seeing kids get really excited about vegetables, I was smiling for a week after that. It was great to see kids pull up 50 pounds of carrots and get excited about a salad for a snack. Learning that broccoli doesn’t come out of a bag and doesn’t have to be gross - that stuff is really valuable, especially if we’re thinking about what we want the next generation to think about food.

Image Grace Glasson graduated from Bates College in 2014 with a major in Women and Gender Studies. She came to farming in part due to her interest in activism and food justice and food access. Other than taking time off to travel out west, she’s been working at Tracie’s Farm in Fitzwilliam, NH since graduating.

Image Craig Jensen grew up in a suburban town without any farms located about 20 minutes from Manhattan. While in college in Worcester, he got interested in the history of growing crops at Holy Cross. When the Meeting School in Rindge, NH closed, he and his wife bought the property and founded Sun Moon Farm where they run a CSA.

Image Jack Rixey grew up in a family with a big garden in the backyard. In college he studied sociology; since graduating has worked on a tree farm, spent time near large scale farming in Nebraska, and for the past two years has been working at Tracie’s Farm. He enjoys growing his own food and composting.