Big Train Farm

Rhode Island Certified Organic Vegetables Since 2008

Rain, Rain, Rain, HOT, Rain, Rain, Rain

May 28th, 2017

April 2017Folks, it’s been wet.  And dark.  And cold.  And that can be a problem when you are in the business of making plants grow.  We are only slightly behind in our planting schedules, but we are going to be behind in our harvest times going into summer.  Crop plants simply do not grow without warm soil and sunlight.  We are planning on starting our CSA pick-ups on time this year (this week!) but our shares may be a bit light in June and there is a possibility of postponing a week if the weather does not improve.  This is something all farmers are going through in the Northeast this spring.  We are confident that we will have a large assortment of produce for your shares this year, it may just take some extra time to get them to you.

IMG_1118However, we do have some very nice plants growing in our greenhouses right now and we should be able to collect a fair assortment of spring greens and young root crops this month.  For the first pick-up we have some excellent looking rabe and kale, radishes, scallions, spinach, head lettuce, and bok choi for you as well as a variety of potted herbs to choose from.  Our peas haven’t begun to flower yet but we are trellising them as they slowly irk their way towards the clouds.  Even though the fields are muddy many of our crops are looking content, just waiting for some photosynthetic stimuli.  Potatoes, Summer Squash, Beets, Carrots, Broccoli, Cabbages, Tomatoes, and Cucumbers (and many others) are all in the wings trying to shake off this cold spring weather.

IMG_1131Good news is that we have electricity at our new farm and just last Friday during the last rain storm (until tomorrow of course) we had a concrete pad poured in our barn!  We took advantage of that one hot weekend and got our water lines installed as well.   So we are setting up our wash station which has been furbished by our extremely generous CSA members who have made a donation to our transition period.  Thank You to those who gave extra this year to help us make the leap from Urban Edge Farm to Snake Hill Farm.  Through your gift we have been able to purchase : pex piping and hardware for our washroom plumbing, wash tubs, irrigation lay flat, produce carts, and lots of bolts, screws, clamps, bits and what-not to put it all together.

So the agricultural venture is always at the mercy of the elements.  However, through our work in remediating the soil, improving and introducing soil biology, we are hopeful that we will pull out of the storm of May into the safe harbor of June.  Here’s to an excellent CSA season and a bountiful summer.  See you all on Thursday for the first CSA pick-up!

 

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MAY!

May 2nd, 2017

Well Folks, the planting season is upon us again.  We have been diligently popping plugs and seeds into the ground and trying to capture as much sunlight and photosynthetic potential as possible.  So far we have planted either in greenhouses or outdoors in our fields: carrots, beets, radishes, cabbages, kales, swiss chard, parsley, dandelion, broccoli rabe, celtuce, head lettuce, scallions, onions, cucumbers, squash, tomatoes, peas, and a few other things I’ve probably forgotten.  We are in the midst of our big onion planting right now and will soon be getting in our fall leeks, celeriac, and summer celery.  We had the pleasure of some North Providence 8th graders join us at the farm yesterday and they were a big help getting some squash and zucchini planted (thanks Jeff!).

So the CSA will be starting soon.  The first Thursday of June falls on June 1st.  Please take a minute to review the CSA details  so that you don’t miss anything.  Our pick-ups will be the same format as in the past (point system with scales) and you will have the choice to take what you like.

IMG_1089We Need Your Help in promoting the CSA for some last minute sign-ups before we begin in June.  If you have enjoyed the CSA over the years please help your friends, family, and co-workers learn about the Big Train Farm CSA.  Feel free to use the poster-image here (thanks Dave!) to distribute as you please.  Also, we encourage you to promote the CSA to anyone you may know who receives EBT (AKA Food Stamps) to consider joining the CSA.  Paying with EBT can save you over 40% on your vegetables.  You can read more about the EBT payments here .

EM-1 FermentDid You Know that microbes help provide soil nutrition to plants, as well as providing other health benefits?  We are always considering our microbial populations at Big Train Farm.  This year we are trying a product known as Teruo Higa’s Effective Microbes (or EM-1) which is a collection of saccharomycetes, actinomycetes, nitrifying and photosynthetic bacteria that provide a range of benefits to the soil ecosystem and contribute to healthy plant growth.  We “activate” this product by fermenting it with molasses over several weeks and then apply it to our seedlings at transplant.  These EM-1 microbes then join the food web which is already in place in our soil, mixing with other bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, and larger order predators like arthropods and earthworms.  The picture here is a carboy with EM-1 material being activated.

 

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Goals and Aspirations

April 6th, 2017

IMG_1029Hello and welcome to April!  I wanted to take a moment to welcome you back to the CSA and update you on some of our goals for this year.  As you may know from previous posts we are expecting to be fully transitioned to our new property in Chepachet by the end of this year, and will be doing 90% of our cropping there.  The barn you see in the picture is brand new, just erected last month.  We are in the process now of getting our water lines, power lines, and concrete pad installed.  The tables you see under the lean-to are part of our new wash station that we are putting together on the property.  The generous donations that many of our members have made is helping to fund installation of pipes and drains, tubs and tables, and other things we need to wash and process our vegetables.

In trying to grow our impact and influence in the farming community and beyond we have started collaborating with some long-time CSA members.  Claudia, Jim, Kristina, Dave, and Faye are working with us this year (and hopefully in the future) to help with advertising, outreach, and promotion of organic, local agriculture in our area.  We are excited to have their support in exploring some of our bigger, mutual goals as well.  For instance BTF is very interested in educational work and anti-racism work in the community as well as access to low-income or other-wise disadvantaged people to fresh, healthy food.  Raising the number of CSA members who are paying with EBT is one of our goals this year.

Other goals are lofty, some down to earth.  We want to grow the best produce we can (always a goal) and we intend to put even more focus on making sure our produce is strong and worthy of your dollars.  Expanding our educational impact, devising a minority-land-access internship program, helping other farms become EBT accepting CSAs, providing an excellent internship for our two interns, providing educational management techniques for our managers, starting a farm school in RI, etc, etc, etc… Oh yes, and we’re getting married and building a house (those are important too!).

As you can see we have many ideas and we need help to actualize them.  If you would like to work with us on any of these projects we would be thrilled to talk with you about them.  For now some of our CSA members will be sending e-mail updates, so don’t be surprised if you find an email from Jim or Claudia in your inbox (under the Big Train email address).

Looking forward to seeing you all in June.  Best Wishes, John

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Progress

March 8th, 2017

IMG_0963March is the month of transition from a (hopefully) restful winter.  So many things begin “springing to life” on the farm during the muddy month that it often jumps off to a quicker start than I’m prepared for.  What to tend to first?  Well as many of you know we are in our final transition year from our old place of business to the land we purchased in 2014 with a USDA line of credit.  In order to make this jump smoothly we have needed to: drill a well, put up deer fencing, gather equipment, build greenhouses, and remediate old, overgrown hay fields into productive vegetable acreage.  We are currently (as you can see from the picture) building.  Morton Buildings has been constructing two buildings, a small barn and an even smaller house (framed in background), where we intend to live and work.  This month we are putting in water lines so that we can irrigate our fields, water plants in the greenhouses, wash our produce in the barn, and (someday) take a shower and wash dishes.

This week we are trying to finish framing another greenhouse which will be used for seed propagation.  We start the majority of our crops as transplants (seeding into plug-flats or containers and then planting them into the field or greenhouse).  In contrast to our other greenhouses this one will be heated during the spring time in order to keep the tender seedlings from freezing.  While we are in the process of building the “prop house” at Snake Hill we are still using the greenhouses at Urban Edge Farm in Cranston.  We have already seeded our onions, leeks, scallions, celeriac, celery, and our first rounds of beets, lettuce, tomatoes and carrots.  Next week we will begin seeding the early kales, chards, broccolis, dandelions, and many more things will follow quickly.

IMG_0950We have also brought on some new blood to the farm in terms of two interns.  Andrea and Kathryn will be with us throughout the growing season in 2017 and will be working at our CSA pick-up on Thursdays.  Cassidy and Sabra are both back for another go as assistant managers and we are so thankful and happy to have them back. Internships are a great way to get fully immeshed in a farming season and we try to make education of future farmers a priority at Big Train Farm.  If we are serious about small-scale agriculture making a big-scale impact then we need to conserve and effectively use our farm land.  This requires more farmers, more customers buying locally produced agricultural products.  Thank you for your support!

Education.  March also is typically when we are involved in giving work-shops and classes around southern New England.  Last week we attended the NOFA/RI Conference and had a round-table discussion about no-till methods for conserving carbon in soil.  This week I’m going to Amherst for the ELA (Ecological Landscaper Association) Conference to give a couple work-shops on Soil Food Web management.  Then next week I’ve got a YFN (Young Farmer Network) work-shop to host and finally our 2-day Soil, Plant, and Farm Methodology Course to teach during the weekend.  Teaching is a passion of mine and doing these work-shops is so helpful to me to get exposed to other growers and work in concert with them to better our growing practices and develop more succinct skills to teach the next generation of farmers, landscapers, and gardeners.
IMG_0951Finally, March is a good time to set up our goals and aspirations for the year, to make sure we have what we need to accomplish our goals, and to get amped about making it happen.  So far we are off to a good start.  Our CSA program is about 2/5 full at the moment and we thank you for your early sign-up and your early payments.  They are so important to get the farm off the ground in the spring and moving in the direction we need to go.  Our survey from the Fall showed that the vast majority of our membership is gathered by word-of-mouth so please promote our CSA to your friends and co-workers.  Tell them about the fresh produce, awesome supplementary products like eggs, mushrooms, local meat, and herbs.  And tell them about the big returns membership gets you in terms of extra produce.  If people start to understand that a CSA is not only convenient but saves you money on local, organic products we shouldn’t ever have to scramble to fill our membership. (Picture on left is of onion, leek, celeriac, and celery seed pre-soaking in a kelp/fish solution).

Have an excellent muddy month of March.  Enjoy the thaw and take some time to set your goals for the year.  On behalf of myself, Mindy, and the Big Train Farm crew we welcome you back for another trip around the agricultural calendar.  Best Wishes. John

 

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Big Train Farm is now on Instagram!

February 8th, 2017

We’ve had the #bigtrainfarm hashtag going since 2012, but as the number of workers, members, and pictures have grown, it has become clear we need to step it up!  (For the Luddites among us, don’t worry, we’re not planning a Facebook page anytime soon!)

We’re actually really excited.

Big Train Farm is a really special, beautiful place for our members and workers alike and we hope we can come together here.

From our workers of all stripes, we’re excited to post about our days so you can see behind the curtain of your produce, honey, eggs, and more.  As a business with big dreams and goals, we’re looking forward to posting updates on the CSA, events, classes, actions, and more.  As growers of your food, we look forward to reposting your delicious meals and veggie hauls.

So without further ado…

Check us out on Instagram @bigtrainfarm !

Enjoy the snow tomorrow! (Finally! Snow!)

Love, the BTF crew

 

 

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A Tale of Two Farms

January 31st, 2017


IMG_0789I guess it’s common knowledge that your wedding and your funeral are the two times in your life (?) when you can expect everyone to drop what they’re doing, get on a bus or plane and come and join you to celebrate your life or mourn your passing.  One of the unanticipated joys of getting married is getting to reconnect with some old friends.   This is a picture of myself and the 2000 crew of Early Morning Organic Farm in Cayuga county, New York.  James Pritty is the gentleman sitting to my right (I’m the kid waving a salute), Anton and Carolyn to my left.  I had the pleasure of reconnecting with James which initiated some rummaging through old photos to swap.  What a treat!

Thinking about my time in New York is an interesting experiment because, of all the experiences I’ve had living and working on other peoples farms, that season was the most impactful.  I say that not only because it was my first experience working on a farm but because it captured a Romantic, or noumenal, impulse in me.  It made sense on a spiritual level.  There was an idyllic beauty to the scenery, the people who came and went, the small college town nearby that seemed without problem or contention.  Production was important, and the pace was intentional, but sometimes seemed like an afterthought to the lands overall purpose.

I’ve always thought that if I had landed at any of the other farms I worked on after Early Morning before I worked there I would never have stayed in farming.  The noumenal power of the next farm I worked on, Greenview, was completely overwhelmed by the phenomenal power of production and rigger.  At that time no one lived on the property of Greenview Farm. There were not three wild-eyed boys running around, nor a farmer wife,  nor a half-pipe in the backyard of the house, nor a house.   Only one caffeine-driven maniac named Craig Totten who seemed to drive the farm forward with the force of his will and neurosis.  Greenview, in those days, was a vegetable production farm.  If you were on the property, you were there for one reason and one reason only:  to keep the wheel spinning.

We weren’t automatons at Greenview.  The place was awash in a sardonic humor and intense wit that made the biggest impression on me of maybe any other place in my life.  The produce was raised extremely intentionally and the quality was the evidence.  But at the end of the day,  Craig would give me the finger, I’d give it back to him, and then we’d drive off to our off-farm abodes where we would recover from the days labor and then meet the next morning to do it all over again.  Craig liked to say that 90% of farming “is just dragging your ass from one place to another.”  On a phenomenal, or literal level, that is absolutely true.  But thanks to the noumenal power at places like Early Morning you might never realize that.

img_0727The two places were always like a ying and yang in my mind.  Anton’s house was full of old memories, my post and beam shack full of late 20th century, pre-9/11 anti-globilization anarchism.  The barn and the tractor were old but reliable and the fireflies lit up the bordering woods in the summer like Christmas lights.  Anton harvested his vegetables into old, half-destroyed cardboard boxes while Craig used fresh ergonomic poly-bins.  Craig’s tractor was fresh off the lot, all business out of the fields was conducted under new canopy tents and field work was done with fresh, new harvesting knives and scissors.  The land had been an old nursery field, no buildings, no memories left.  But Anton’s vision seemed sometimes lackadaisical and ungrounded.  Craig always seemed to be building, growing, expanding, moving towards complexity, mechanization.  That made sense to me in a big picture way.  The world needed an organic-alterative and there for our farms should be producing a lot of food and doing it efficiently.  Watching the fireflies and swimming in the irrigation pond wasn’t going to get the world fed, it seemed to me.

My own business has swayed back and forth between these two some-what contrasting approaches.  Sometimes I am the ferocious efficiency hawk, other times the transcendentalist hack-philosopher.  Over the years I’ve struggled to get out from under Craig’s phantom eye, watching me sometimes move too slowly or allow time for the volunteers and employees to chat and play.  Many times I meditate back to Anton walking across thistles and stones in his unsurpassably rugged bare feet, quietly hustling and insisting others do so simply by example.  I’ve somehow managed by balancing these two men, my two mentors, to become a boss that most of the time I can stand and others seem to enjoy working for.  One of the most profound blessings of running Big Train Farm are the relationships I’ve been lucky to form.  It seems that, thanks to borrowing from both of these old farmers, the autocrat and the hippie, I’ve managed to form some kind of amalgam of both.

 

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Transition

January 3rd, 2017

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Transition Time.

Those of you who have been members of our CSA for the last several years know we have been transitioning to a new property.  Big Train Farm has called a some what run-down old turkey and pig farm in western Cranston home for the past nine years.  This lovable, shabby, old amalgam of social experiments is called Urban Edge Farm.  It has been home to many start-up agricultural businesses since 2002 when it first came on line thanks to the efforts of many people both in the private and public sectors.  Ken Ayers from DEM, Pat McNiff and Kathryn Brown from Southside Community Land Trust were the original trailblazers of the dream that became the most important place in my adult life.

The history of the project deserves it’s own telling, and several attempts have been made to condense the UEF story into newspaper and publication articles.  The most recent appeared in The Natural Farmer last spring.  Inevitably the rich, wormy material of the lives of the farmers, the relationships and projects that have been fostered on the property are impossible to tie down succinctly, and every farmer has a long and entertaining story to tell.  Big Train is no different.  Since our first seasons on the property we have loved UEF and tried to help it grow.  Through different farmers, executive directors, farm stewards, liaisons, directions, and refutations the farm has maintained.  Urban Edge still remains and will still remain for the foreseeable future thanks to all our efforts as a team.

IMG_2323Urban Edge has provided advantages to the growers who have held leases there.  An array of equipment has been available to rent from walk-behind tillers to 75hp tractors, wheel-hoes and manure spreaders, shovels and reference books.  Irrigation water is pumped around nearly the entire property with high-pressure hydrants available to growers.   Propagation green houses, facilities for washing and packing, walk-in coolers, electricity.  All of these things have been maintained and built upon by the growers who have been there, investing their own time and money to help the farm grow and go, and by SCLT as part of their mission.   The citation that is often missing (and is probably the most important asset UEF has going for it) is the fact that there is a community of professional growers intermingling there, sharing ideas, learning how to solve problems, assisting with marketing, and socializing.

farmBut it’s time for us to go.  We are ready now, after two years of working both properties simultaneously, to move off of UEF and concentrate our efforts at our own property we call Snake Hill (not to be confused with Snake Den).  By the end of 2017 we hope not only to be farming full-time at Snake Hill but also to be living there.  We have already built three and a half greenhouses, put in a well, put up deer fencing, prepped 4 acres of land for crops (with another acre or so to go), and are about to start building a barn and small house.

We have a tremendous amount of costs that we are trying to manage this year.  Although we haven’t gotten ourselves into anything that we don’t think we can handle we could use some help.  We are looking for donations from our CSA member community this year to help with some of the bigger start-up costs that we will need to cover.  These include the following: wiring a propagation greenhouse for spring heating (of 2018), constructing a wash-station and packing room, purchasing new irrigation lines (about 1000′ or so), putting in a slab for our barn, and more.  Oh, did I mention we’re getting married too?

So if you are able to make a donation to these efforts when you sign-up for the CSA this year we would be so grateful.  If you are not able to put extra money down there are other ways you could help us out:  Do you have any of the following things lying around?  lumber, hardware, old washing machines (we can use them for drying greens like spinach and lettuce), cabinets, metal shelves, tool boxes, so on and so forth.  Let us know and we can come pick them up.

 

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2016 CSA Breakdown

November 29th, 2016

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Hello!

Every year we calculate how much product our CSA members received through our main-season, 26 week share.  We have just recently finished the 26-week season so it is time to tally up all produce that you received and then calculate the return (or the amount of produce you received on-top of what you paid for).  We consider your investment in our growing season a commitment to healthy food that is grown and produced locally.  We always aim to reward that investment with a nice return.  Your support is so critical to our viability as a farm.  Consider your 2016 return a big Thank You from all of us.

 

Breakdown: SO your purchase of a vegetable share broken down by week is as follows:

Half-Share : $350 = $13.46/week

Three-Quarter Share:  $530 = $20.38/week

Full Share: $685 = $26.34/week

2016 Weekly Share Totals (Dollar values are for Full Shares)

Week 1 : $39

img_0450Week 2 : $24

Week 3 : $28

Week 4 : $28

Week 5 : $32

Week 6 : $26

Week 7 : $28

Week 8 : $40

Week 9 : $36

Week 10 : $51

Week 11 : $39img_0386

Week 12 : $36

Week 13 : $31.50

Week 14 : $31

Week 15 : $46

Week 16 : $30

Week 17 : $30

Week 18 : $28

Week 19 : $34

Week 20 : $30

Week 21 : $25
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Week 22 : $24.50

Week 23 : $24

Week 24 : $24

Week 25 : $26

Week 26 : $28

Total Value in Produce 2016 : $819

Average Weekly Share 2016 :  $31.50

Total Return For Full Shares : $819 – $685 = $134/member (17% return)

Approximate Total Return from Big Train Farm to 2016 CSA Members : $10,000!!!

Thank You for your amazing support.  We hope you have an excellent winter and spring and look forward to seeing you again in June.

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Winter Share 2016/2017

September 22nd, 2016


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Winter Share FULL for 2016/2017

We have filled all our slots for the Winter CSA for 2016/2017.  We are so thankful for the support from our members through the Winter months. Below are the details and pick-up info for the season.  Important to note that pick-ups are every other week, pre-bagged, and there are no pick-ups in January.

Details: The Winter CSA is a 14-week share that runs through December, February, and March (no pick-up in January)… We condense the weekly shares into one pick-up every other week.  This way you will not have to travel to the pick-up every week but will pick up two weeks worth of vegetables at one pick-up.  The crops we are selling in the winter will last for a long time in your fridge so you don’t have to worry about things spoiling over the two weeks.  We will be pre-bagging the shares, so you will simply come to the pick-up and we will pass over your bags.

img_0669What’s Offered? We will be offering winter-harvested greens from our greenhouses every week such as kale and spinach as well as garlic, onions, potatoes, butternut squash, carrots, beets, sweet potatoes, leeks, celeriac, and parsnips.  In early December and late March there may be some other hardy vegetables available as well.

Price: A Winter CSA share is $300.

Where and When?  Pick-up will be at the Bell Street Chapel (5 Bell Street Providence) on Thursdays from 5-7pm (the pick-up window is tighter, please be aware).  If you would prefer to pick-up at the farm we can leave your bags in a cooler.  The dates will be as follows:  Dec.8th, Dec. 22nd, Feb. 2nd, Feb. 16th, March 2nd, March 16th, March 30th.

 

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Now accepting SNAP/EBT benefits for CSA payment!

April 28th, 2016

What an exciting update.

You, our lovely shareholders and friends, undoubtedly joined our CSA for a variety of reasons: maybe you love to cook and want the freshest, tastiest, locally grown food; maybe you are conscientious of your health and want to simply eat more veggies; maybe you’re even mindful of our shared ecosystem and want to invest in a food system that does not rely on egregious pesticides, herbicides, mono cropping, and general bad agricultural practice. However, we also know from talking with many of you over the years, that you are genuinely interested in or actively working toward a more just world. Many of you, like us, want things to be a little easier and better for all, not for some.

We are thrilled to announce that beginning this CSA season, we will be accepting EBT/SNAP (formerly known as Food Stamps) as payment for CSA shares.

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Two years ago I worked with Farm Fresh Rhode Island to create a resource for local farmers to use to become retailers who accept SNAP.  Still, however, there are not many farms that now accept SNAP.  Regardless, we are proud to add our name to this small list.

When thinking about food accessibility, this could barely be a smaller step.

The truth is that as a small, independently owned farm business, we rely solely on your financial support. Existing in a food paradigm outside of subsidies means that CSA shares are typically more costly (that is, more true to cost) than most vegetables you can buy in supermarkets.  This is of course only when looking at the financial value of a local CSA and does not include the returns members get each year.  Still, this has long been a real criticism and barrier for many when lesser economic resources.  Even those with SNAP benefits often do not have enough monthly benefits to feed their families and despite this very successful anti-poverty program, many families still live in poverty and many children go to bed hungry.

We have big plans for the future of Big Train Farm: how can we diversify our CSA membership as well as our crops to appeal to a wider community of eaters? What do we envision our CSA looking like in five years?  How can we share our cooking and food preparation knowledge with each other?  How can we further incorporate values of social and environmental justice into a sustainable small business model?

  • If you have SNAP benefits, we have edited our website sign-up so you can select that as a method of payment.
  • If you know of someone who has SNAP benefits who might be interested in joining our CSA, let them know we’re accepting CSA members.
  • If you know of a local community organization (e.g., church, health center, school, community organization) that might have access to folks with SNAP benefits, please spread the word to them!

I will be working for the next month or so in the community doing outreach, so if you know of an organization or group that you would recommend I do outreach with, let me know!

We are more than happy to discuss any questions folks might have about what a CSA is, what kinds of food we offer, and even direct to local organizations who offer courses on how to prepare vegetables.

Payment with SNAP is a bit different.  While our members have historically always paid with checks which we rely on to finance the start of our growing season, the USDA requires members paying with SNAP to make payments every 14 days during the CSA season (June – November).  There is no advance payment.

We will be creating a flyer in the coming days to share in the community and we’ll be posting it here so keep a look out!

Mindy

 

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