After closing their community garden and CSA, this couple shares the bounty of their experience with others.
Story by Jean Ann Pollard
My husband, Peter Garrett, and I ran Simply Grande Gardens, for 10 years. It was a CSA, which stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Our organically-certified vegetable garden fed about 15 families each year. Our shareholders came from all walks of life including college professors, social workers, retirees, avid gardeners and even the unemployed. Shareholders either paid for their vegetables or worked in the garden.
Every minute of it was special even when it rained and the mud sucked at our boots or the sun was so hot it burned our noses. We’d still be going strong if I hadn’t needed a hip replacement (I fell while ice skating).
Peter and I believe in sharing our home and our vegetables with others life is just more fun that way. So, when two garden enthusiasts walked into our house the other day with notebooks in hand and questions about running a CSA, Peter sat them down at the kitchen table and began talking. Our two visitors wanted to grow food for hungry neighbors who had fallen on hard times, so Peter gave them these hints to help get them started.
- First, find land. Search for a good, flat piece of land for your CSA that’s fairly close to a population center to reduce travel time and fuel consumption. Once you’ve done that, test the soil chemistry (you can buy a soil test kit at most garden centers). It’s best to choose land that has never known pesticides or herbicides.
- Choose a size for your CSA that’s not too large for your first try. Simply Grande was about 1.5 acres, an area that fed 60 people with an abundance of summer vegetables, plus winter vegetables for five or six families.
- Use seed catalogs to choose varieties that will thrive in your community garden’s horticultural zone.
- Purchase seedlings. If you live in a colder climate, start CSA seedlings indoors (unless you have a greenhouse). If you intend to grow your own seedlings, be aware that certain vegetables should be started early like onions and leeks in February.
- Keep a timetable for planting your community garden. This will help you keep track of things as you accumulate packets of seeds.
- Breaking ground is the hardest part of the first year. The original site of our CSA was a hayfield. Once plowed, manured and disked by the farmer next door, it was then rototilled to make the soil soft and ready for planting.
- Lay out each year’s community garden on paper. Our plan had rows measuring 3 by 20 feet that were separated by a 1-foot-wide path. Soil from the path was shoveled or raked onto each row to make it slightly raised. (That way, if there was too much rain, the beds wouldn’t flood.) Using a wheeled seeder on these slightly raised beds, we planted beans and peas in two rows, and beets and carrots in two or three rows about 8 inches apart. Planting in straight rows allows for quick weeding with a collinear hoe later. We covered large, non-raised beds with plastic to retain moisture, raise soil temperature and discourage weeds, and then punched holes for the plants with a post-hole digger. Tomatoes were interplanted with cabbages, broccoli and cauliflower (tomato odor discourages cabbage worms). We moved the plastic around the CSA year after year.
Click here for more tips on running a successful CSA in your community.