Frequently Asked Questions - Barberry Hill Farm, Farm Share Program

1. How do I contact you? 
Once the growing season begins in earnest, it is a whirlwind of activity with little space for returning phone calls. We do try to check email once a day, so please contact us at .  Feel free to leave a message on the home phone 203-245-2373.

2. Why do I have to pay for the whole season up front? Why can’t I just pay week by week throughout the season? 
The reason that we have members pay in advance is that we need to know in winter how many people we will be feeding through the growing season. When we seed the first tomato and pepper seeds in the greenhouse in early January, we need to know how many tomato and pepper plants we need to grow this year and the only way we can know that is to know how many members we have. The other reason we request payment up front and in full is that it shows that you have made a firm commitment to the farm share. Our commitment to you begins when the first seeds go in the ground in early spring. If members could pay as they go, some members would drop out as the season progressed just due to the law of entropy. Members would drop out in late August, for example, as life becomes hectic when the kids go back to school. Unfortunately, we would have already invested months of time and work and money to grow that member’s food for the fall months. Finally, if we had to spend time keeping track of who paid what and when, we would never have time to actually farm.

3. How much produce is in a share? 
This is a difficult question to answer. Weight is not really a good measure because in the spring when you are getting lettuce, spinach and other light things a whole bag full of produce might not weigh more than a couple pounds whereas in the late summer when you are getting heavy things like melons, sweet corn and potatoes you might lug home as much as 15-20 pounds of produce..
The best way to measure a share is to say how many people it can feed. Unfortunately, this too is a very difficult question to answer because people’s dietary and cooking habits are so varied. However, most farm share members find that a share is adequate to feed a family of four “omnivores” or a family of two vegetarians. That said, a family of two may consume a double share or two families of four members each share a single share. It really comes down to two factors: how often (how many meals) you cook at home as opposed to eating out or eating prepared dishes and how many vegetables you include in your diet.

Boxes are provided at the first pick-up and returned for subsequent pick-ups, or we encourage you to bring your own recycled container to transport your goodies home.

4.  I don’t think I can use a full share. Do you have half shares? 
Yes, we offer a full share, half share and a summer share. The description of each is part of the CSA enrollment form. A full share feeds, roughly, 4-6 for approximately twenty weeks. A half share feeds 2-4 for approximately twenty weeks. A summer share feeds 4-6 for approximately ten weeks.

5. Why can’t I choose which vegetables I get each week? How do you choose what to pick each week? 
First of all, the amount of time and record-keeping it would take in order to allow the members to choose the vegetables in their share each week would be mind-boggling. Each week we would have to make up a list of available produce. You would have to call in your order each week. If we didn’t have enough of something to give it to everyone who ordered it, we would have to figure out some fair way to make substitutions.

Furthermore, we’d have to run all over the field picking a little of this and a little of that and harvesting would take forever. Then we‘d have to pack each member‘s share up separately.  I‘m starting to pull my hair out just thinking about it.

The other part of the answer is that the ability to choose which vegetables to pick gives me great control over the quality of the produce you get and the health of the farm. Each week we look over the fields and chose a selection that is at its absolute best that week. If the French green beans are ready to pick this Tuesday, by next Tuesday may be so stringy and over mature that they won’t be worth picking at all. The spinach that is sweet and succulent on June 1 may be bitter and tough on June 8.

The ability to select which vegetables to harvest each week also helps manage all sorts of problems in the field. For example, say its mid-June and the weather forecast is calling for a week of dry, 90-degree weather, we will harvest the last of the lettuce, radish and other cool weather crops that week before the hot, dry weather diminishes their eating quality in half. In the fall, you’ll know when the first killing frost is in the forecast because you’ll get lots of peppers, eggplants and other tender vegetables rescued from the cold.
As an organic farmer, timely harvesting is one of the most important tools for controlling insects, weeds and disease. For example, If the weeds in a carrot bed are starting to flower, we will clean out that bed as fast as possible before those weeds start dropping seeds onto the soil. The best method of controlling weeds is to keep weed seeds out of the soil to start with.

In general, when we choose, we can run the farm much more efficiently, with much less waste and far fewer pest and weed problems. And you get to eat produce that is always at its absolute best--even if you aren‘t able to choose what you get.

And we are conscientious about putting together an eclectic selection each week. We strive to create a mix of salad crops, root crops, cooking greens, herbs as well as the "fruit" vegetables like peppers, tomatoes, cukes and squash and flowers

6. What if I get vegetables, like Tomatillos or Husk Cherries that I have no idea how to cook or eat?
Chances are that somebody else loves precisely what you loathe. This fact was driven home just this spring when one day a request came that I grow fewer beets this year. The very next day I ran into another who said, "I sure hope you’re raising more beets this year."
In all honesty, I have never had a vegetable that I didn’t like. To help, you will find some recipes at our blog, they are in the file labeled recipes. We encourage your family to re-try those things that you “know” you don’t like. You may not like broccoli because your first experience was with those pale-green, rubbery stalks of overcooked broccoli served in the school cafeteria. Try the real thing--you may be delighted to find out what you have been missing.
Almost every new farm share member is introduced to some vegetables that maybe completely unfamiliar. To help out, we compile an e-flyer each week that lists what vegetables you’ll get that week and gives simple-to-make and delicious-to-eat recipe.

7. If I notify you well beforehand, can I get a refund for those weeks that I will be out of town during the season? 
We cannot refund members for missed weeks. The reason is that even if we know that we don’t have to pick for you, we cannot tell the vegetables not to grow that week. The vegetables will be there that week whether you are in town or not and we cannot afford to let them go to waste. We cannot afford not to be recompensed for the hours and hours of labor and love that have already gone into growing them. The fact that everything we grow for the farm share is paid for up front and in full is one of the major reasons why we can provide fresh, organic produce to farm share members.  If your family should be forced to miss a share day, contact us and we may be able to make other arrangements.  You may want to consider offering your weekly share to a friend of neighbor while you are gone.

8. Can members visit the farm? 
Members are invited to visit the farm at anytime throughout the season. Just don’t expect us to drop everything and give you a guided tour. Kids of any age are welcome. We encourage you to come see where and how your food is grown and our unique “forest floor” growing method we are happy to educate and share our property and experience.

9. What do you mean when you say you farm organically? 
Well, first of all, we do not “say” that we farm organically—not legally at least. Because we are not certified organic by the USDA, We cannot call what we do “organic farming,” under penalty of severe fines or jail time. (Yes, it’s true.) So instead we have to use terms like “natural” or “sustainable” to describe what we do. The term “organic” is now wholly owned by the USDA.

All little history: Starting in 2000, only farmers whose growing practices meet newly minted USDA standards for organic production can call their produce "organic." Previously, independent certification agencies certified farmers as organic, using a set of standards upon which the current USDA standards are based. The transition from the old independent certifiers to the monolithic USDA certification process was such a chaotic mess that most except the largest opted to drop out until the dust settled. Well, the dust has settled, but I just can not bear to deal with another government bureaucracy. We haven’t changed the way we do anything on the farm, so we still consider ourselves org…uh, I mean, “natural, sustainable.”

As for what certified organic means (under the old independent system or under the new USDA system), one must not use or have used for the previous three years any synthetic chemicals of any kind on one’s farm. That means no man-made insecticides, herbicides or fungicides. A certified organic farmer can kill no organisms with manmade chemicals. It means no synthetic fertilizers, no hormones and no genetically modified plants or animals.

In the many years that we have been farming, we have strived to maintain that purity. We didn’t convert to organic farming. I started out my first year farming (age 8) with natural and sustainable processes. I call it “forest floor” farming, which I guess I learned from the Indians. The indigenous Indians knew that the most fertile soil lay upon the forest floor, but there was no sunlight due to the forest canopy. Their solution was to slash and burn the forest, grow crops until the forest began its new growth, then move on to slash and burn again. Today the slash and burn method is frowned upon by the State Of Connecticut so we import the forest floor to our fields. Each fall the great leaf vacuum trucks clean-up your neighbors leaves and deposit them in our fields which eventually breaks down into the lovely humus the Indians prized so much and our plants adore. The soil here has never been farmed chemically; once one starts the chemical control, it becomes a vicious cycle. That said, at times we do start plants and feed the greenhouse crops with natural organic soil and synthetic fertilizers if necessary. We use no pesticide, herbicides or fungicides in the greenhouses or in the fields.

A true definition of organic goes beyond a list of rules, a list of do’s and don’ts. Organic farming is a philosophy and a way of life. Since organic food has become big business in the last few years, many farms, particularly corporate farms, are going organic for purely economic reasons. To them, organic standards are simply a series of hoops they have to jump through in order to get their fingers on a piece of the organic pie—and organic premium prices. To us, farming organically means farming in a way that is harmonious with Nature. It means realizing that Nature is the omnipotent dictator. The natural world is the master of producing abundant food for all living beings. Nature produces food for each organism without harming the environment for other organisms. Our goal is to learn enough about Nature to be able to produce food for humans without spoiling and destroying the environment for all other living things. I still have a lot to learn.
Farmers should be able to raise food without polluting the air and water, without degrading the health and fertility of the soil, without destroying biodiversity and without leaving our children a less healthy planet. This statement is self-evident and no farmer and no consumer would argue over its validity. In practice, however, it is a radical notion, for most of our agriculture today does, in fact, pollute the air and water, degrade the soil, destroy biodiversity and leave the planet a less hospitable place for future generations. My duty as a farmer is to fight this trend.

In short, you can decide for yourselves whether we are “organic” (or natural or sustainable) enough for you. You are welcome to come to the farm anytime. You can do your own inspection and conduct your own certification process. Although neither you nor I have the legal right to describe what we do as “organic” farming, last I checked we are still free to think and believe whatever we want.

10. Will our vegetables be full of bugs because you farm without chemicals? 
Full of bugs? No. Will you ever find an insect on your produce? Maybe, but it should be rare. Our philosophy is live and let live. I know some people are so squeamish that if they see a bug on a vegetable, they’ll throw the whole thing out rather than eat it, but I think that is silly and wasteful. Look at it this way would you rather have a worm that you can see or a poisonous chemical that you can’t? Besides silkworms and cabbage worms, few insects are dumb enough or slow enough to stick around after a vegetable is picked. Sometimes you will see the telltale signs of where insects have eaten a little of your produce before you got to it. Often the greens will have little holes in the leaves where flea beetles were munching or the beans will have some gnaw marks from bean beetles, but we see nothing wrong with sharing a little of our food with our insect brethren. Sometimes insects can feed so heavily on a crop that it’s no longer worth the harvest , but if the damage is only cosmetic we will go ahead and harvest and sell a crop with a little insect damage. We certainly won’t go out with insecticides (even legally, organic insecticides) just to ensure the cosmetic beauty of a crop.

Remember, just two generations ago, before the rise of chemical farming, everybody dealt with insects and their handiwork everyday--and were healthier for it.

11. Do you ever supplement your produce by buying on the wholesale market? 
First of all, most produce on the wholesale market doesn’t meet our standards for quality, taste or sustainability. More importantly, however, we would never sell you produce about which we know nothing. We are not merchants; we are farmers.

That said, for the past several years, we have worked with other local farmers who grow sweet corn and a few fruits for which we do not have the quantity or space to supplement our own supply. Sweet corn takes up a lot of field space and we just don’t have enough room to grow enough to satisfy the demand.  If we do include produce from another farm we are proud to give credit for their efforts.

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