I am standing in the heart of the operations for Burge Organic Farm. On the outside, it’s a quaint log cabin.But once the door opens, agrarian paraphernalia come into view. Multiple deep washing sinks, two large refrigerators, farming equipment and tools… . I am accompanied by Cory Mosser, farm manager and excellent tour guide. My my cogs are turning, trying to process all the information Cory is sharing. I learn that the refrigerators are operated by air conditioner units, which do a superior job regulating temperatures to maintain produce integrity and trim energy costs. He jumps into a seat attached to a piece of equipment and describes how this is a transplanter, so while someone drives the tractor (which is also included in the tour and is a beauty), two folks will sit on this metal conglomeration and oversee transplanting. This saves a bunch of time, so instead of taking three days to manually plant 1500 tomato transplants, it will take less than day. All-in-all, I am struck by the investments this, and another nearby farm, Crystal Organic, have placed on the shared equipment to enhance efficiency. Small scale farming is industrious, but not industrialized, an undercurrent to upholding the integrity of good quality, locally grown food.
I spot an old school stationery bicycle. It’s a gem, but what on earth is it doing here? With the enthusiasm of a little boy who has just got his first bicycle, Cory jumps on and enlightens me. He grabs another box-shaped piece of equipment, demonstrates where this fits on the bicycle, and then how the pedaling will operate these units… And we have a pea-sheller! This hot item is going to make its debut at the farmer’s market this season. Cory enjoys getting customers engaged at the markets, and he intends to get them on the bicycle to shell their own peas. A brilliant way to break the ice and connect with your food! And then, in the midst of all of this, there is a white erase board. The ‘to do’ list is lofty… my eyes are happily scrolling but they are interrupted by the words ‘Easter Bunny Idea’.
Half an hour of touring the open fields, stepping into the high tunnels, handling a teething ten month old, squeezing into the greenhouses crammed with tomato and Brassica transplants, taking in the view of the incredibly diverse fruit orchard… but these three words have whipped me away from all of the information rushing through my head. It’s been a while since my Easter Bunny days. When I was about four years old, I almost scared the bunny away when my mom caught me peeking through my bedroom window one beautiful Easter Sunday. Easter Bunny makes me think of hollow chocolate eggs and chocolate smeared faces. And yes, while bunny rabbits can be found on many farms, I am not sure how this erase board ‘to do’ item fits into the highly efficient and productive farm operations heart.
Cory is not short on ideas. After all, how many folks get married, then shortly after tying the knot, head off on a five month trail through the Appalachians only to realize that law school is no longer an option, but farming is. And why? Because while Cory was on the trail, he saw what was wrong with our food (the long strip malls of fast food) but also what was better (the vast rural land and diverse, productive family farms). He stepped off the trail and entered the world of food production, marketing, and distribution, learning and applying new skills and knowledge. Several years later, he joined the historic Burge Plantation to manage seventeen acres of certified organic farm land. And he has never looked back.
So it turns out that Easter Bunny has something to do with what I continue to encounter on small-scale farms managed by young farmers: ‘innovative marketing’.
Yup, small-scale farming is picturesque, altruistic and quaint, but many of our young farmers realize that to keep the tractors running, there is far more work beyond the scope of tending to land and harvests. Cory acknowledges that as a farmer, he does get caught up in daily operations of seeding, translating, weeding… but at the end of the day, he reminds himself that the fruits of his labor need the gentle hand of marketing to move them on. Seeing that the new season is on the horizon is in sync with Easter, may as well use this time to pitch CSAs. Cory and his wife have three daughters. Their youthful imagination lead to the idea to pack a turnip, radish and carrot into a little bag with their CSA information, and to give these out to school kids for Easter Bunny. The kids go home, jump up and down because they have some yummy organic treats for the bunny, and their parents, like me, think ‘What a novel and clever idea! Who are these farmers? Wow this carrot tastes delicious… sorry Easter Bunny, no treats for you!’. And hopefully, some new CSA sales are generated. Brilliant!
We talk some more and once again the topic of consumers comes up. Cory agrees that whether consumers are avid local food supporters or just wetting their toes, education is integral in providing them the skills and resources to maximize the potential of good food. Yes, it takes more enthusiasm and dedication to keep committed to a CSA, but eating well-grown food is a valuable investment in health of local communities, their children, and their economy. So whether you celebrate Easter or not, this is the time of year to get connected with your farmers and to invest in their efforts to provide all of us with better, more wholesome food. And if Easter Bunny is going to visit your household, be sure to dangle that CSA carrot, because rumor has it, he digs organically and locally grown too.
Jess Avasthi, Real Time Farms Food Warrior, Winter 2012
Keeping Food Real… for humans and bunny rabbits.