On March 15th, Small Farm Central will be presenting the CSA Expert Exchange - an online conference covering topics important to farmers running CSA's (it's only a week away -- sign up now!!) We are proud to have several Small Farm Central clients presenting during the event. Jean-Paul Courtens and Jody Bolluyt from Roxbury Farm in Kinderhook, NY will be talking about establishing a systematic approach to a diversified operation, including when and what equipment is appropriate. We asked them to answer a few questions relating to how they ended up in farming, their thoughts on educating other farmers and how running a CSA has affected how they farm.
Jean-Paul Courtens and Jody Bolluyt
Can you tell us a little bit about how you came to farming, how you ended up farming together and how Roxbury Farm came about?
Jean-Paul grew up in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. After a short stint in college he decided to WWOOF by bicycle through Wales and Ireland. When he returned to Holland he started homesteading. He quickly realized that he needed more education to make farming a career, so he enrolled in a 4-year biodynamic agricultural college called Warmonderhof in the Netherlands. After he graduated, Jean-Paul traveled to the U.S. to visit organic and biodynamic farms. He was asked to stay in the U.S to work at a Camphill in Minnesota providing the community with vegetables. After one year he moved to Hawthorne Valley Farm in Ghent, NY to initiate their vegetable operation. In the fall of 1989, after three years at Hawthorne Valley, Jean-Paul started Roxbury Farm. In 1990 Jean Paul was approached by members of the Center for Anthroposophy in NYC to develop a CSA relationship with Roxbury Farm. In 2000, Roxbury Farm with the help of the Roxbury Farm CSA members moved to new land in Kinderhook to gain long-term land security by partnering with the Open Space Institute and Equity Trust, Inc.
Jody grew up in Iowa. Her first job at 13 was de-tasseling corn (pulling the tassels out of field corn plants for cross breeding purposes) and walking beans (spraying Roundup on the weeds in a soybean field) During college she studied botany and biology and worked at a flower farm and greenhouse operation during the summer. After graduating from the University of Iowa, her passion for agriculture lead her to move to the Northeast and work on organic vegetable farms. She met Jean-Paul in the midst of the transition of Roxbury Farm to new land. Jody became a farming partner in 2001 and they were married on the farm in 2004.
You have a lot of material on your website that is aimed at educating other farmers. Do you feel a duty to educate other farmers? Why? To what extent do you feel that sharing information with and educating other farmers is vital to the success of your own farm?
In the Netherlands much of the information we have on our website is available to all farmers through extension services. It is easy for Dutch farmers to find out how long it takes to grow head lettuce in June compared to August. Also by hundreds of years of collective experience of vegetable farmers the most effective procedures for harvesting and crop production are universally adopted. In the U.S., Jean-Paul found that the lack of infrastructure and specific support and information was not available to beginning farmers. He initially wrote up the Harvest and Crop Manuals for the Roxbury Farm crew members. When other farmers expressed interested in the material, Jean-Paul put them on our website. We hope sharing our standards and systems (written for Roxbury Farm conditions) helps other farmers to be successful and to provide a template to develop their own manuals. As a biodynamic farmer, working out of anthroposophy, we believe that competition in the marketplace causes economical, ecological and cultural decline, and that experience and knowledge should be part of the public domain. In order to restructure our agricultural system we need more successful sustainable farmers. If we can contribute to that in some small way, we feel it is our responsibility to share in whatever way we can.
How has operating a CSA affected the way you interact with your customers? How has it affected the way you operate your farm?
Our farm is centered around our relationship to our CSA customers that is based on a continuing development of mutual trust. Our customers provide us with the financial means to operate the farm as an organism. They do this by supporting the operating budget of the farm and finding us a sufficient membership to help spread the cost. The members share the risk and receive the bounty of the farm. This relationship allows us to stay on the farm (as opposed to attending farmers markets) and to concentrate on becoming better farmers. The farm has grown to 1100 CSA members representing approximately 1500 households. This cooperation allowed the farm to secure 375 acres of land (with extremely low debt load), providing our 13 employees with higher than average wages (with four employees year-round employment), and transforming the farm from a vegetable operation into a diversified and integrated farm through the inclusion of a herd of beef cows, a flock of sheep, pigs, chickens, and two draft horses.
To register for the CSA Expert Exchange, go here.