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Producing Excellence

Margaret Evans and Kevin Brown

Pittsville, MD

Groundworks Farm

Products: Produce

Size of Operation: 40 acres

In Business Since: 2012

Farm Credit Partner: MidAtlantic Farm Credit

Managing a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) operation requires a lot of planning to provide the right amount of the right produce for its members – members who purchase “shares" in the farm in exchange for weekly boxes of fresh produce grown with the money they've invested. Although neither grew up on a farm, Margaret Evans and Kevin Brown undertook the challenge in Vermont. Two years later, they've moved their operation, Groundworks Farm, to Maryland, hoping to capitalize on the longer growing season and larger and more concentrated potential customer base. They'll also be benefitting from owning their land rather than renting it, a change made possible with MidAtlantic Farm Credit.

“The lease was a good opportunity to learn from experience, but we couldn't reach the farm's full potential," Margaret says. “Some crops take a while to establish. Owning our own farm and having that security means we can put in long-term improvements. Kevin is thinking about adding fruit to the shares, so we'd be able to have an orchard."

Margaret and Kevin currently offer their members summer and winter produce, pasture-raised meat and poultry, and eggs and cheese form a local supplier. Planning crops can be tricky, but crop data from other CSA farms provided a starting point. “We think about the crop, approximate yield, and what we want to provide in the share," says Margaret. “On new land, we'll quadruple those numbers because we don't really know how it will produce."

For example, if Groundworks plans to include several heads of lettuce each week, they'll do succession planting to make sure they can provide produce staples that they know people like to see frequently. For more unusual vegetables that aren't included in weekly shares, they calculate how many pounds a crop such as kohlrabi will yield, how much each member will receive, and plan the crop from there.

Sometimes they need to explain to customers that a favorite variety from the previous season didn't do well and won't be in the share. “It creates a connection," says Margaret. “Our customers have been really happy – we've gotten great feedback. We grow more than 100 vegetable varieties, so if one kind of lettuce doesn't do well that year, the members won't see it in the share. But we grow enough that we can still provide a diversified share."

Growing plenty to reduce risk means that there's a lot of produce left at the end of the season. To eliminate food waste, Groundworks invites people to come to the farm to glean, a manual process of harvesting the crops in the field after the commercial harvest has been completed. Also strengthening their connection to the community, Margaret and Kevin conduct farm work days where members came to the farm and participated in various farm activities.

“We want to make our farm feel like more than where you're buying food," says Margaret. “We find that when people come and participate, they're more invested and become more excited about the farm and the food. If you come out and help plant onions for the afternoon, you're going to be more excited when you get onions in your share later in the season."

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