A unique agricultural
CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. It is basically
a marketing concept from the perspective of a farmer. The CSA is
only one program of the farm. They might have a farm stand,
they might do wholesale, and market through a CSA. Most CSAs
are sole proprietorships and most are for-profit farms.
Holcomb Farm Community Supported Agriculture is a pretty unique
farm. Itís not just a CSA; itís also a charitable farm. About
60 percent of our produce is earmarked for the CSA, which is a
program in which household members sign up for an annual
membership. They pay an annual fee to join the farm and then
come to the farm once a week through the growing season.
The other part of what we do is we partner with social services
agencies in Hartford and we provide between 30,000 and 40,000
pounds of fresh produce every year to people in Hartford who
wouldnít otherwise have access to fresh, organic produce.
We grow about 35 different crops -- tomatoes, peppers,
watermelon, lots of greens, lots of herbs, cantaloupe, pumpkins,
winter squash, carrots, beets, turnips -- It goes on and on.
Weíre in our twelfth season and weíre pretty established as this
point. Thereís a good market for our CSA and weíve built up the
farm enough to be in a pretty strong position right now.
I think CSA is here to stay in places like Connecticut that are
heavily populated and fairly affluent. And, I see a tremendous
need among folks who live around here in suburbia to come out
and see what a farm is all about. CSA is perfect for that. And,
weíre right here in the middle of the suburbs so we have access
to a great market.
Our biggest customer demographic is young families with children
who say they want to show their kids where their food comes
from. And, they also want pure, organic produce for their
There are so many things that go into bringing a successful
product to market and bringing a successful experience for our
customers. When we really pull it off, when we have a great
crop, the customers are really happy. Itís extremely satisfying.
I think the other aspect of the CSA, which is pretty important
in terms of connecting people, is introducing them to the idea
of eating with the seasons. We have strawberries in June,
tomatoes in August, and winter squash in the fall. And, the
idea that certain things are available during certain seasons
also sort of grounds people and connects people to agricultural
In a big-picture sense, itís about preserving the stateís
identity, visual identity, and the historical connection to our
past. Thereís also the environmental benefit of open space, and
then thereís the educational benefit of connecting people to
farms. Itís making people more aware of nutrition, of
environmental preservation, of local economies and local
communities. That happens through community farms. And, then
thereís a whole host of financial benefits to municipalities as
well. Weíre losing our farms and CSA is all about connecting
people to farmland and to fresh produce.
How to become a working farmer
This is my ninth season farming and my third season here at
Holcomb Farm. I got into farming through my student farm at
Cornell University. Then after that experience I got a couple
summer jobs working on organic farms. I just stuck with it and
went from farm to farm over the years and gained experience
until I was lucky enough to get a couple management positions.
I had no resources and no agricultural background. But, I just
bounced around and gained experience through apprenticeships,
where you basically work for substandard wages in exchange for
learning how to farm. I learned a lot from some great farmers
over the years. And that combined with new opportunities for
salaried farm managers, and community farms such as this one, I
was able to make a career out of it.
Now here at this farm, we also host apprentices and a lot of
them do aspire to become farmers, one way or another.
I have a year-round assistant manager. He was an apprentice for
a couple of years and I was able to offer him a year round job.
And, we also have four apprentices who work here from April
through November, about 50 hours a week. They do the bulk of the
work. We also have some volunteers, either our CSA members or
other folks in the community, and occasional part time help.
I think the other place where youíre going to see a lot of new
farmers is in part-time farmers because the resources required
to capitalize a farm are pretty significant. Itís just a matter
of matching not only the land, but also the capital and other
sort of business expertise. Most people who are able to start a
farming business are going to bring resources from a previous
career, or they are going to do it part time. Our neighbors
right down the road, theyíre professional carpenters but they
run an amazing farm on a part-time basis. And, I think youíre
going to see a lot more of that.
At this point I canít imagine doing anything else. I can
imagine staying here for quite a while. I love my job because I
get to wear a lot of hats, Iím a marketer and a manager and
grower and a mechanic and an equipment operator. And, I get the
satisfaction sort of seeing a product from the very beginning to
where it goes home with people. And, thatís pretty meaningful
to me. And, I enjoy the cyclical rhythms of a farm. Each season
has its own tasks. Each year I try to do a little bit better and
a little bit better. Itís a never-ending project.