There was, all of a sudden, a clamor, as the sound of heavy chains jingling and swift footsteps passed the entrance to the barn. Most picnic attendees had just rushed up to take shelter inside the large barn while rain began pelting the metal roof in waves. The commotion was Amos, the host and owner of Healthy Harvest Organics in Parksburg, Pa., leading a quintet of neighbors down to the original picnic setting. They worked quickly to lash the chains to a latrine, then used the rain-slickened grass to skid it about a hundred yards, up a small embankment and finally across gravel — coming to a stop 20 feet from the barn entrance. This was an extraordinary gesture of hospitality.
Certainly farmers don’t practice these things in their spare time — right?
The C.S.A. picnic was initially arranged to be held among a tiny grove of elderly trees by a creek and pond. The day was primed to be a lovely engagement but even the thorough preparations made by Amos and his wife Emma couldn’t prevent the interjection of a couple brief storm fronts. The first burst of rain interrupted the meal just as soon as it started — proving that weather has no regard for our wishes to eat and commune in the dry. Then, towards the end of the day, a pick-your-own watermelon and corn harvest was preempted by the second rain. This one was stronger and lengthier and it either drove guests back to the barn or to their cars, spelling the end of what was an eventful afternoon.
In between these two storms, however, a sense of camaraderie set in as the rain had to be dealt with. At one point a couple groups of farmers and shareholders alike lifted up tables as long as 14-foot, carried them over a foot-bridge, then up to the barn. Even more spectacular was that the tables were still topped by dishes of food. It seems when people cooperate in this fashion the social barriers break down and the remainder of the activites were somehow more substantial — especially considering the cause for the get-together.
It wasn’t just another CS.A. picnic — it was an opportunity to meet others as advocates pursuing a sustainable, ethical and healthy agriculture. It was a chance for shareholders from the C.S.A.s the co-op supplies in Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland to encounter a working family farm and collapse the distance of the producer-consumer exchange. Besides Amos and Emma, the representatives of member farms were Elam from Liberty Acres, Aaron and Lavina from Maple Lawn Organics, Eli and Casey (who is also the Co-op’s general manager) from Lancaster Farmacy, and finally Henry (the board president of the Co-op) and his wife Saloma from Farmdale — all present and available for questions. Casey, when he wasn’t cutting up and serving melons from his farm, made an impassioned speech of appreciation for all the support the shareholders have given from the beginning of the co-op. As a group the farmers, along with C.S.A. staff members Evan and Kathan, fielded questions for about an hour.
The topics ranged from farming (beneficial bugs, production of fields since transitioning to organic growing methods, conventional farmers’ perception of organic methods) to operations (coordinating crop selection and quantity among farms, allocation of share contents within the C.S.A.). The panel mixed in anecdotes, such as the tedious work of weeding and pest control. Specifically, Casey mentioned that each ear of corn is administered a little dose of plain old vegetable oil to to prevent worms. He spoke of gooey hands from squishing harmful insects. Concerning harvest, Eli explained that farmers need to be conscious of the weather and make use of cool mornings before the heat or getting out in the fields ahead of the rain even if it means working into the dark of night. It was also an opportunity for shareholders to hear each other and the common passion for local and sustainable agriculture. The conference had all the more poignancy because it was out at a farm in the midst of a busy growing season rather than a clinical convention hall or cramped bookstore.
After the Q. & A. there was an informative bee-keeping demonstration by Amos’ brother Benuel and his wife Lydia.They had a full array of educational materials which Benuel used, revealing a knack for captivating storytelling. Meanwhile the farm was open to a self-guided tour and Amos made available some of his corn and watermelon for picking. A routine task to the farmer, the wonder and reward of harvesting was rendered anew by novice picnic-goers. A shareholder recently messaged: “[We] had never picked a watermelon or corn before, it’s great to know what to look for in the case of the melon and learn to pick the corn by pulling down and twisting!”
Although there was plenty of apprehension with the weather, the rain did not spoil the day and in fact “it was kinda fun.” From everyone at Lancaster Farm Fresh, thank you to those who came out for the picnic and roughed the weather with us. A special thanks to Amos, Emma and family for their generosity in hosting us.
We are excited for our next picnic, to be attended by our Harlem shareholders. It’s set for September 24 at Farmdale Organics with Co-op President Henry and Saloma.
Take care and thanks for supporting local, sustainable and certified organic farms!
Chris Breimhurst, C.S.A. assistant
Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative