Monday, February 24, 2014

A New Model for CSA

Any farmers' cooperative or CSA coalition will tell you that coordinating a CSA with several farmers, over 50 members, and multiple distribution sites can be quite an ordeal. But add to that mix different cultural preferences and language barriers and you've got a whole new set of challenges!

We're constantly reevaluating our program here at New Roots, working on ways to improve our CSA model so that our farmers are exposed to alternative models of selling while delivering high quality produce to their CSA customers. Cultural and linguistic differences present unique challenges, and our goal as New Roots staff is to work with our farmers on how they can overcome those challenges. We practice English with our farmers, talk with them about the differences between the taste preferences of people from their home culture and those of many US-born citizens. But unlike the plants that grow at Juniper Gardens from seed to fruit in just a few months, English skills and understanding of cultural preferences don't develop as fast- especially with other jobs, family, school, and community commitments all taking up farmers' limited time. The "growing" that we're working towards doesn't occur in just a year.

A lot of the suggestions we get about our CSA involve having more choice, improving communication between New Roots staff, farmers, and CSA Friends, and making more options for share sizes. So we're trying something new this year.

At the beginning of the season, CSA Friends will be given a booklet of 18 vouchers, equal to one season’s CSA share. On each voucher will be:
1. The name of your farmer
2. A number indicating how many items you can select from your farmers table when you pick up your share
3. A number 1-18 indicating which week of the season the voucher is good for
      The idea is that each week, you bring your voucher for that week to the market, hand it to your farmer, and select the number of veggies you paid for from their selection. This way, you can buy a smaller share if desired, you can pick the veggies you want, and you can easily have someone else pick up your share on any given week. 

 Hate scallions? You won't have to worry about pawning them off on a friend anymore! Obsessed with cherry tomatoes? Don't stress about not having enough in your bag this week- take 3 pint boxes and it counts as 3 of your items! Going out of town but don't know how to explain to your farmer that your friend Sarah is coming to get the share next week? Just give Sarah the voucher, and your farmer will know she's there to get your share!

 We're looking forward to trying this system in 2014, and our farmers were equally as excited when we asked their thoughts. We'll do another evaluation at the end of this season, and while we know there will still be things to improve on, we hope the voucher booklet will address many of the suggestions we tend to get. 

 For those who have bought CSAs in the past, thank you for your support! We hope you'll stick around while we work to get you the freshest produce from some of the happiest & hardest-working people we know!
                  
                             _________________________________________


     If you're interested in buying a CSA share this year, check out the "Markets and CSA" page of the blog for even more details, including prices and what to expect from your CSA experience. Then you can let us know you want to buy one by filling out the 2014 New Roots CSA Interest Survey here or on the "Markets and CSA" tab. If you have questions that aren't answered on that page, contact Meredith Walrafen at mwalrafen@catholiccharitiesks.org or 913-906-8930.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Strawberries, mushrooms, and honey, oh my!

The 2013 growing season is drawing to a close here at Juniper Gardens, but that doesn't mean that there’s no work to be done! Farmers are working hard to prepare for the winter, harvest what remains in their fields, while also thinking ahead to next year. With the help and generosity of a researcher, a baker, and local pastor, New Roots farmers will be starting three projects completely new to Juniper Gardens next year.

Strawberries
Two current New Roots farmers and several graduates of the program have recently planted strawberries in their gardens as part of a pilot project aiming to improve strawberry yields in the Great Plains. Cary Rivard- Associate Professor at Kansas State University and fruit and vegetable specialist with the K-State Research and Extension office in Olathe- has been working with our farmers over last few months on his project, which aims to provide a more stable income stream for producers and encourage new growers to enter the industry.*

*For more information on Cary Rivard’s strawberry pilot project: http://www.ksre.ksu.edu/news/story/strawberry_production060513.aspx


First-year Nepali farmer Tula Regmi and his wife, Menuka, are one of two couples starting strawberries this year.
Mushrooms
Last week at our end-of-season meeting, our farmers got to hear from Chad Russell, a mushroom enthusiast and baker at Fervere, an artisan bread bakery in downtown KCMO. He talked about the process of growing mushrooms on logs and what kinds of mushrooms have an established market for demand in Kansas City. There was a lot of interest, both from graduates and current New Roots farmers, so keep your fingers crossed and you may just find mushrooms at our markets in 2014!

Chad Russell (standing, back right) presents a powerpoint to current New Roots and graduate farmers with pictures of different mushroom varieties.
Honey
Last but certainly not least is the new addition of beekeeping to our farmers’ repertoire. A local pastor has graciously offered to donate the necessary equipment to teach a few of our farmers how to keep bees and sell honey!  We’re talking with a handful of farmers about it and hope to pick a location to keep the bees in the next month, and then we just have to wait until the temperature is right in the spring! If the weather cooperates, there might be enough honey to start selling in September or October of next year. 

Other Firsts
In addition to these new, exciting developments to the Juniper Gardens Training Farm, other parts of our program have achieved “firsts” this year. Several of our graduates planted fruit trees- apple, peach, pear, and cherry- as well as blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries. A few people have also planted asparagus!

At the Bhutanese Community garden, farmers have planted fruit trees and berry bushes too, but they've also planted ferns and taro root. The fiddle heads on ferns are a popular food in Nepali culture, and taro root is a starchy plant that is often used for its gelatinous qualities.

This season has been a great one, with our farmers collectively making several thousand dollars more than they have in years before. We’re excited about the additions of fruit, honey and mushrooms to our farm and can’t wait for next year to see these projects bear fruit (literally and figuratively)!

Keep your eyes peeled for an end of year report with more details on the 2013 season! 

Friday, April 26, 2013

Volunteer Highlight: Jordanne Bonfield, New Roots ESL Teacher

I was a CSA member with New Roots before I started volunteering. Some friends and I looked around the city for a CSA and we came across this program in 2010. Last year I saw on Facebook that they were looking for ESL teachers and I thought that sounded like a good opportunity. Many years ago in college, I taught ESL in Bosnia over the summer. So it was something I was a bit familiar with. It’s not necessarily that I have a lot of skill in that area, but I thought I could give it a try and see how it went.

I have spent about three hours a week from January to March volunteering with the program. I prepare and give an ESL class to a small group of women who are farming in the program. I teach different topics each week about things that the farmers will need to know in English. For example, we worked on the names of vegetables and the planting calendar. The students knew more about the farming aspect, and I knew the words in English, so we were teaching each other. That was one of the things I loved the most- seeing the planting guide and seeing when people plant their seeds. I am pretty illiterate in the gardening world, but after looking at the picture-based planting guides that the farmers use, it made so much more sense. I’m exposed to it week after week, so I’ve gained more of an idea of what it would take for me to grow some of my food at home. Another week the lesson was on cooking and recipes and learning how to explain to your customers how to cook what you grow. A lot of the cultures don’t use written recipes, so we started talking about the differences in how people cook things. That class produced a lively discussion that was unplanned but created a lot of cultural exchange, and for me it ended up being one of the highlights of my volunteer experience.


It is interesting, because personally I’m not super passionate about gardening. I do love working with people from other cultures. I realized that I wasn’t dedicating any time in my life to doing that. I was wondering, “Why do I invest so much time in things that aren’t important to me, when I’m not investing time in something that I love?” We live in a culture that’s really busy all the time. Everybody is so busy. Most people feel like being busy just happens to them and they don’t have a choice, but I feel like it is my choice. We all spend hours doing things like surfing the internet, not producing anything of benefit. So through this experience I am trying to become more disciplined and dedicate my time to something I feel will have a positive impact in the world.

Making the time to volunteer and honoring that commitment has been the most challenging part of the experience. There is sort of an internal battle each week of whether I will make it there or not. I think about if the ESL class members are going to come, and if they want to be there. But even with the snowy weather, at least one person has showed up. So I re-convinced myself every week that I needed to show up and be there too.

I live here in the area, and I really wanted to be more involved in my community. And I have found that volunteering is good for the community, good for the farmers and good for me. So my motivation was really to un-stick some of my selfishness, and I can say that my soul felt at rest in a different way because I was doing something beyond myself.

One of the most powerful things I have experienced during my time as a volunteer has been to really get to know some of the women I work with and to see them shine. One student in particular is extremely shy in class. Sometimes I wondered if she understood what we are discussing in class, and then she would surprise me by understanding complicated concepts like using our imagination to fill out a sales record for a sample market experience. Even though I knew this before, I experienced over and over firsthand how even though someone may not be proficient in English and able to explain oneself very clearly, that does not mean they don’t know what they are doing. Although this particular farmer was almost painfully shy in class, I saw a whole different side of her when she was working in the greenhouse with the other farmers. She is a leader! She is extremely competent and confident in her farming, and she helps the other women. So I was able to see her skills and abilities and her strengths in a way that I would not have seen just by meeting her at market. In fact, I think about how I’ve seen people at the farmer’s market get so impatient with her or other farmers, and I wish they could see these women in their element. They would not doubt that they know what they’re doing, and I think they would not make as many assumptions about them despite their challenges communicating in English.

For me, volunteering with New Roots has been one of those experiences that makes me want to become even more involved. It has also been personally empowering for me as well. I feel like if these women can accomplish so much with all of the challenges they face, I can accomplish what I set out to do as well! Whether you volunteer here, or somewhere else, it’s just a good thing to do. I’ve been able to connect more deeply with my neighborhood, and I’ve learned where my food comes from along the way.