This past Thursday we traveled out to visit Groundswell Community Farm. Groundswell is a certified organic farm that has been providing folks along the lakeshore with the freshest food possible since 2006 when it was started by Katie Brandt and Anna Hoekstra. They offer CSA shares and sell produce on Saturday’s at Fulton St. Farmers Market. It’s near and dear to our hearts because in 2009 we decided to get involved with a CSA in our region when Jenna started doing a lot of research on the effects of food on society. Honestly, it is hard work but has changed the way we eat and live.
What is Community Supported Agriculture?
Community Supported Agriculture (a.k.a. “CSA”) works like a cooperative—you buy a share of the season’s produce in the early spring and get a variety of vegetables every week of the summer. No factories. No pesticides. No oppression (of humans or non-humans). Just the cleanest, freshest and best tasting vegetables you’ve ever put in your mouth.
The field trip was amazing and the people were inspiring. First, meet Tom. He became part owner in 2010 when Anna, one of the founders, left to pursue models of eco-villages in Mexico followed by three months in LaDakh, India, working and learning along with the indigenous culture in the mountainous regions. Back to Tom. After graduating with a degree in chemistry he worked as an environmental chemist to save money for a trip around the world. 18 months and 11 countries later he returned home to Michigan to volunteer for (and then work with) the West Michigan Environment Action Council. During that time he earned his master’s degree in sustainable agriculture and wrote his thesis on building a local food system for Grand Rapids. I like to think that Tom helped build the bandwagon for local food in West Michigan as that was 13 years ago.
Next up Sarah (pictured left) took us on a tasting tour where we learned about snow peas, okra, radishes, broccoli, lettuce, carrots, kale, asparagus, kohlrabi, peanuts and a host of other veggies. One of the first things you’re bound to notice walking around the farm is that Groundswell Farm sits on the blackest soil you’ve ever seen….and it’s not just topsoil. Valley floods and glacier movements have deposited 28 feet (yup, feet) of soil and organic matter in the valley!!! This nutrient dense soil and a well thought out planting & harvesting schedule enables four acres of land to produce enough food to feed more than 150 families during the summer. All of that, plus short travel times for distribution helps keep fossil fuel use to a minimum, which is a big deal.
“A 2002 study from the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health estimated that, using our current system, three calories of energy were needed to create one calorie of edible food. And that was on average. Some foods take far more, for instance grain-fed beef, which requires thirty-five calories for every calorie of beef produced.” – Sustainable Table
There was a lot of discussion about monoculture, standardization and need for bio-diversity in a healthy food economy. Metaphors abound! In industrial agriculture standardization reigns supreme; if you’ve got to ship 1,000,000 pounds of tomatoes overseas they need to be relatively the same size and shape so they can easily move through automated processes, picked early and thick skinned to make the trip (where ethylene gas is sometimes used to ripen them in transit).
Pictured above is one of the 16 varieties of lettuce that Groundswell grows. Although a diverse offering of crops is harder work it also takes into account bugs and unexpected weather.
Alessa getting up close and personal with some fresh garlic.
Ethan cutting into a fresh summer squash.
We ended the day by harvesting carrots and weeding the herb bed which smelled soooo good. Sage, thyme, oregano, chives, sorrel and rosemary. Overall a great trip and eye opening for students and volunteers alike. It was so good to get get our hands dirty and taste the fruit (literally) of Groundswell’s labor.
Thanks again to the Groundswell crew of Tom, Katie, Sarah, Ruby and Colleen for taking time out of their day to share their passions and knowledge with us.
Save Michigan Buy Local
Speaking of sharing knowledge, our program is funded by the sale of shirts designed by guest artists. For this workshop we have a particularly tasty design: Save MI Buy Local by the lovely Amanda Jane Jones. Heck, let’s apply what we’ve learned today: if you live in the Holland area just punch in the code “LOCAVORE” at check out and get rid of that nasty shipping fee…we’ll then arrange for you to pick one up while you’re out and about, maybe even meet you at the Farmer’s Market!