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Featured Farm -- Harvest of Joy Farm

Local, sustainable, affordable, and delicious food is incredibly important to me. After seeing how much people enjoyed the post I did about my cousin Ben's Farm, I thought, why stop there? SO! In addition to a featured artist every month, I will also feature a farmer/farm--at least until the snow makes it impossible. This is my second season participating with Community Supported Agriculture or CSA. I thought I should explore the farm I "support" bit further.


Harvest of Joy Farm -- 2011 -- Amy Newday & John Edgerton, Owners

Amy's farm is located in Shelbyville, MI, right off 131. I pull in the driveway late on a Saturday afternoon and am immediately greeted by the farm dogs, Sunny and Bud. Bud hangs out with us under the picnic table as we talk about the farm.


Let's start with the name. "My friend Diane Glenn, who helped me start the farm and stayed on until 2013, came up with the title. We googled it to see if the name was taken and found a book about wine making with the same title. We just added farm on the end," Amy tells me, laughing. Why farming? "I don't know," she says, mostly joking. Amy grew up on the land she farms. Her parents own a (no longer operating) dairy farm next door.


Amy works as the Writing Center Director for Kalamazoo College and is also a local (fantastic) poet, in addition to running the farm. "When I was a kid I said I was going to be a teacher and marry a farmer. As an adult I realized I can be a farmer!" She explains, "With all the interest in local foods, it just seemed the time to do it." Yet as our conversation progresses, it becomes clear this passion for growing food is not simply market strategy.


John, who also helps run the farm these days (more on him later!) brings us a slightly overripe, perfectly splendid cantaloupe to dine on while we chat. Amy explains why she loves the CSA model. "Our food system isn't sustainable. Even the organic industry relies heavily on fossil fuels to exist. And if the weather fails, there goes your crop. [The CSA model] builds community resilience around food. It transforms a product-based economy into a relationship-based economy. When we have a food system with an economic focus, the worst decisions get made--it's one of the worst things we've done for our environment, for our bodies, and for our communities."

Amy tells me a little bit about the history of CSAs. They're an import! The model started in Japan in the 1960's under the name "takei," which translates as "putting the farmer's face on food." They made their way to America at some point in the 80's but have gained traction in the last ten years with the growing local food movement. The result is that instead of having a farmer with a product, if you join a CSA, you have an invested stake in the farm (similar to a co-op). You buy into the success and failure of the farm and of each season. Bumper crop? AWESOME. Late frost? Bummer.


Amy likes getting away from the "cash for product" model. Not only are GMOs becoming a scary reality but land erosion is a huge problem, not to mention fertilizer run off into rivers and streams, pesticides which are have not only created super bugs but whose chemicals are contributing to bee colonies collapsing and harming us. In addition, food that's grown for conformity has no taste!

All of these issues are important to her. But the most important reason she engages with what she does is to reclaim the skills of producing the food we eat. "The crop I'm producing is less important than the skills I've gained: seed saving, plant breeding, crop rotation, natural pesticides, composting, and organic growing."

 Ducks are great as a natural pesticide--they walk around eating undesirable bugs!

When I ask Amy what she loves about what she does--as opposed to the reasons why it matters--her whole face lights up, "Plants are my heros! They are amazingly resilient!" She shows me a patch of bean plants that have started growing near the house after John tossed out some old seeds. "Food is sacred. You take a being and put it in your mouth and it becomes you--not metaphorically, literally. And outside is awesome! Working with living systems. I'm facilitating this thing that is completely beyond me. I'm just fascinated by all of it."

Amy's Takeaway: "I'd really like to confront the attitude of elitism about healthy eating. This is not a luxury--this is basic--it makes up all the cells in our bodies. It shouldn't be a luxury to have food that doesn't give you diabetes, heart disease, or mental health problems. Food becomes this moral thing, as if the environment is separate from us. We're not being loving to ourselves by eating crap. I really wish eating was more respected and valued. We can all have it!"


Amy takes me on a tour of the farm. The whole operation spans about an acre of active vegetable production.

A large pond in the back area of the property supported by the Conservation Reserve Program. Amy discovers one of the ducks might be a male they exiled from the flock for being too aggressive.

FIELD GREENS!

Cukes!

A rare kind of tomato called Ruby Gold. John received seeds from Ben Quisenberry, who had a passion for saving heirloom tomato seeds, shortly before he died.

 Swiss Chard

Pole Beans!

Prettttty.

Buckwheat field

"My natural propensity to be distracted by the beauty of the world is served by working outdoors."

After my tour, I sit down with John Edgerton, who has been helping on the farm since 2013. John has a long history doing non-violence work. He spent many years teaching at the Center for Non-Violence in Fort Wayne, IN. He's been intrigued by CSAs for a long time and saw them as an opportunity to get back to the Earth.

Simply put: John wanted to interact with and grow food for people. "The best way to do food and farming is in community." John wanted to find a sustainable model for creating change. His passions are seed and plant diversity as well as food that is disease resistant. "Climate change is going to throw a huge wrench in [our food system]. It already has."

I ask John what connections he sees between his work in non-violence and working with the Earth. "We have to learn better how to cooperate and collaborate with nature and its dance. We've been taught that nature is violent too, yet the Earth is in deep symbiosis, cooperating on a deeper level. We are a part of a larger biotic community: plants, animals, people, all living things. This work allows me to explore and appreciate that. And also feel that tension."

John's Takeaway: "Be supportive of future generations who are trying to make connections with social justice and the Earth. If we tend the soil--after some difficult times--we may prosper and come into abundancy again."


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