Following 2015’s sabbatical, we will not be offering a CSA program in 2016 or the near future. After three years, we weren’t able to reach our desired CSA membership goals, despite offering a variety of unique benefits including share customization, home delivery, and an especially wide variety of produce and herbs. Given that we left the farmers market in 2011 (also after three years) because our sales were averaging well below production, this places us in a trap going forward: it seems that we can’t sell the volume of produce necessary for a full-time farm in this area, but the time and financial commitment to a farmers market or CSA doesn’t work without that volume.
And, to be honest, a series of negative experiences over the years from the ban on feeding pigs vegetables to the indifferent reaction to spray drift have taught us that the political climate just doesn’t favor the agricultural goals we have in mind, and our inability to develop a widespread customer base leaves us isolated in the face of challenges beyond our control. If we’re hit with spray drift again; if food-safety regulators crack down on small farms; if one of us is injured and unable to work for a significant length of time (which happened in 2015, “fortunately”); if the rollercoaster ride of weather extremes continues; what then will we do without the economic or cultural support network needed to carry on?
Going forward, we will explore other approaches that will support our long-term goal of integrating food and farming into the ecosystem in a way that allows us to remain independently employed. Over the course of 2015, we worked to research and develop alternative sources of income that draw upon our other professional interests and skills, including free-lance writing, data management, web development, grant reviewing, map making, and education. On the farm, we are transitioning to a permaculture-based management system, integrating perennial fruit and nut plantings into the landscape while increasing our focus on agroforestry. In addition, we are pursuing plans to grow seeds for a small seed company. We’re also exploring opportunities for educational programs here, hosting a bird-watching walk and habitat-improvement day on March 5 through the Columbia Audubon Society, and a Homesteading Fundamentals class on March 19 through the Columbia Area Career Center.
There will continue to be opportunities to buy produce from Chert Hollow Farm; we will maintain an email contact list for consumers interested in learning about available crops such as garlic, strawberries, mushrooms, or whatever else is producing well. As our perennial plantings mature, we hope a variety of fruits will become abundant and available. But in the immediate future, we will be pursuing non-farm income and dedicating more on-farm time to longer-term projects that we hope will pay off in the future. In the meantime, we’d like to continue building and maintaining connections with folks who want to take part in the farm’s management and production. We thank all of you who have supported our farm over the years.