2018 CSA Season, Open

IMG_1321Hello and let us welcome you back (or for the first time) to Big Train Farm’s 11th Three-Season CSA program.  We are extremely excited to be starting our first full season at our new property in Chepachet, RI.  For the past three years we have been transitioning off of the farm we called home for ten years.  After three years of preparation we are finally making the move complete.  In 2018 we will be living and growing on the Snake Hill property.  After all we have been through to make this happen it is a huge thrill to be taking these last steps to independence.  We will greatly miss our friends and colleagues at Urban Edge Farm and Southside Community Land Trust.

Our outlook for 2018 is pretty positive.  We are transitioning all of our annual vegetable fields to permanent raised beds this year in order to realize a long-held goal of growing our produce “no-till”.  In order to manage a soil to produce the most excellent crop we believe this is necessary.  Although a difficult system to implement (and we’ve tried many approaches) we are optimistic that we have the equipment and the know-how to make a complete transition to no-till organic vegetables this year.  To read more about our methods check out this page of our web-site.  Let us know what you think.

IMG_1392We’re going to have awesome produce again for you this year, and a lot of it.  After 2-3 years of prepping the very raw soil we purchased at Snake Hill we are starting to see the benefits.  Fertility and composition of the soil is becoming more uniform and crops are healthier and more reliable.  It takes time to renovate land to organic annual vegetable production and we have made the investment.  In 2018 we expect the land to pay some handsome dividends.

This will of course will contribute to an outstanding CSA season we hope.  In 2017, if you are a returning member, you will remember how difficult the spring weather was for farmers in the northeast USA.  The spring rains severally effected some of our most important crops.  Despite this difficulty we were very pleased to have so many satisfied customers with our CSA.  We are confident that with last years extra remediating of our soil and with our raised bed system we will have the integrity built into our land to be more resilient when difficult weather presents itself in the future.

IMG_1173Another greenhouse on the property will help our season extension into the Fall and Winter.  We are going to expand our offerings with different varieties of cucumbers, beets, basil, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, winter squash, and others.  We also will be planting some perennials in 2018 and perhaps some fruiting plants like strawberries and blueberries which will be ready in 2019.

Economic realities have influenced us to raise our prices in the CSA a little.  By adding less than $2 per week to a half share and less than $4 per week to a full share we will be able to meet our economic obligations to our employees, our mortgages, and the farm itself.  We have also decided that if these prices are too difficult for our lower income customers we can negotiate a share price for the season on an ad hoc basis.  We want to be clear that we are not charging our customers more for the same amount of food.  Rather we are adding a small amount each week to your share.

November CarrotsWe are so thankful for the people who support Big Train Farm year after year.  We hope you will join us again for another trip around the New England agricultural calendar.

Best Regards,

John and Big Train Crew


Ten Years

Farm Fresh Rhode Island Farmer's Market in downtown Providence, RI, 10/8/2010. Photos by Scott Kingsley for SharecanvasThis year we celebrate ten years in business as Big Train Farm.  I have to admit that at this juncture it’s difficult to know what to address.  So much time, money, people, fun, heartache, and work has passed into history.  Physically the farm has changed almost completely, relocating from one location to another over the past three years.  Mindy’s graduating class address was given by a woman who referred to the Argo, the ship of Jason and the Argonauts, being completely destroyed and then rebuilt again, nothing original remaining.  I find that to be mostly accurate in our case as well.  Nearly everything I’ve believed about work and farming has changed over the past ten years, from method to intent.  I’ve had the opportunity to reexamine my past in all my roles: a student, a teacher, a boss, a boyfriend, a husband, a writer, a musician, a farmer.  Now, looking back at the past ten years I’m struck by how much I still recognize myself even though my ship is nearly fully renovated.IMG_2467

I realize now that, even as an employee working for other farmers, it’s virtually impossible for anyone to comprehend the intimacy of farming for a living when you are solely responsible for your land, your employees, and your customers.  When farmers say that what they do is a lifestyle, they mean it.  The farm holds you in a way that is difficult to explain.  Yes, farming is hard work, but when words like menial or drudgery start floating around your daily vocabulary it’s time to re-assess your practices.  Farming is a joy.  Nature is a joy because it offers an example everyday of reality in all it’s beauty, power, love, cruelty, and inexplicably.  When you revel in a rainstorm, a blizzard, a hundred degree afternoon, or a cold spring morning you experience a sublime joy.  A sensibility like this is something I liken to grief or love:  It has the power to destroy you or make you a better, deeper person.  So perhaps you have to be tough, but you also have to be receptive.  Work on the farm offers this to a high degree.  Farming has offered this to me and I’ve tried my best to appreciate it, deserve it, and share it with others.

IMG_0245A farmer I respect spoke about the state of the nation.  He said that only two percent of Americans are farming these days.  He then said “I’m not sure what the other 98% are doing , but they don’t seem to be enjoying themselves very much.”  This is a bit hyperbolic of course, but it resonated with everyone in the room in kind of a tribal way.  Those of us lucky enough, privileged enough, to do what we do revel in it.  Yes, we are not motivated by simple pleasures.  We are motivated by deep commitments to things and we try to actualized them for ourselves and for our customers, friends, and neighbors.  I don’t believe that the rest of the country is not enjoying their lives and ought to be farming in order to do so.  I also don’t believe that the sublime connection to nature I refer to is only enjoyed by people standing out in their fields in a hail storm.  However it is clear to see that we have a problem in this country in regards to how we treat ourselves and our landscapes.  Agriculture needs a place in our communities because farms foster purpose in our landscapes that transcend simple needs like gasoline, burgers, cheap mattresses, or hiking boots.  Green places offer solace, calmness, confidence in our lives simply by being there.  The term chlorophila is one that people need to think about more.  It means love of green (or literally : love of chlorophyll).  We all have an innate love of green hardwired in us.  Our society has simply ignored this basic need in designing our food system, our suburbs, our cities, and many of our rural areas everywhere except our most affluent communities.  This is obvious to anyone when you simply think of a green place you’ve counted on being there suddenly disappearing to development or some other disturbance.  Nature offers one of the only solid reprieves in our lives and should be highly valued and integrated into our societal fabric.

IMG_1398So, ten years.  Is it even very long?  It seems like both yes and no, and is all relative I guess.  Some instances seem so very far away, others so naturally familiar.  What to do with it all?  I always gravitate to the philosophy that you should go into the world half-baked rather than not at all.  Meaning even if you haven’t sorted everything out on a subject dive in anyway and get dirty.  I haven’t been shy about getting dirty these last ten years but maybe I have been too reserved on some issues.  This New Year requires more than a New Year’s resolution.  It requires a Ten Year Resolution!  What will be the goal of the farm and of myself over the next decade?  So much of the first ten years was just trying to hold it together!  To make a living on two acres of marginal farm land in Cranston took some intrepidness and plenty of focus.  Three years of moving my business from one place to another did as well.  But now things are a little more streamlined, a bit more organized, even a little dialed in.  Despite a horrendously difficult growing season to be transitioning from one farm to another we managed to hold it together and accomplish many of our goals for 2017.  For that I am not only thankful but feel unbelievably blessed.

IMG_0903I have a lot of hopes.  I want success for everyone who is involved with Big Train Farm and Urban Edge Farm.  I want something in people’s lives to be owed to the farm, hopefully a bright spark of some kind.  I want my wife to be strong and happy and I want my friends and my dog and cat to thrive.   For myself I want a better understanding of how farms and farmers can benefit, make more money, support their communities and propagate more growers.  I want to take all I’ve learned over the past ten years and flesh it out, research farming methods and grasp the healthiest, most efficient ways to grow food, sequester carbon, and provide profit to farmers.  I also want to bridge the gap between the best food in our communities and the neediest people in our communities.  I hope that whether you are a friend or customer (or both) you and I can work it all out and check in again in 2028.


Lots of love and respect to everyone who made it possible.

You know who you are.


Ode To The Crew

IMG_1468Of all the assets that we can number on the farm the most valuable one is our crew.  The people who come to the farm every week to work or volunteer are the life blood of the business and the most important aspect of farming.  Big Train Farm is an amalgam of people from different walks of lives, coming from different States, cities, and towns who all find something gratifying in their farm work.  Many of our crew have been with us for years and we hope to continue our friendships and working relationships with them into the far future.

IMG_1477My two star employees are both leaving us after this season.  Cassidy Whipple, finishing her second year at Big Train, is starting her own farm business in Richmond, RI (look out for Frontier Farm!).  Sabra, wrapping up three seasons with me, is heading… we’re not sure!  Maybe Colorado? Maybe Guatemala?  Where ever she ends up she will be greatly missed.  Cassidy and Sabra can be credited with either seeding, planting, weeding, harvesting, washing, and/or packing virtually everything you received this year in your CSA shares.  They deserve a lot of credit and I know that they will do well in whatever endeavors they attempt.  I hope they will take a little bit of BTF with them and that it will inform their efforts in a positive way.  Thanks dudes, you raised the bar.

IMG_14792017 was unlike any year I’ve experienced farming.  There were so many people coming and going, getting into car accidents, crashing motorcycles, dealing with sick partners, getting new jobs, moving away, and on and on.  It’s hard to even keep everybody straight.  But everyone who has been involved has given us their best efforts and has shared a little bit of their uniqueness with us.  I used to have a somewhat anti-social investment in farming, but over the years I’ve realized that it is always the folks who share the trip around the agricultural calendar with you that make it worth it.  Thanks to everyone who kicked ass in 2017 and helped make BTF what it is and should be.

There is something comforting in the current atmosphere of people in power being called-out for their indecent and harmful treatment of women, wether they are women in a professional setting or in public.  Women feel empowered now to speak out against the abuses that they have suffered at the hands of powerful men, men who have stifled their careers or caused them untold burdens.  And, maybe for the first time in history, these women are being taken seriously en mass.  The farming community in RI is one of empowered women starting businesses and setting new bars.  I am so proud to have worked with so many strong and passionate young women over the years and I hope that their time with BTF will prove to be an asset, not a hurdle, in furthering their careers.  IMG_1470



2017/2018 Winter CSA Shares Now Available


Winter CSA is currently full.


Hello!  It’s time to start signing members up for our Winter Time CSA!  We still have a few weeks left in our main season CSA which will bring us to the end of November (last pick-up will be the Tuesday before Thanksgiving).  After the last Summer/Fall pick-up we continue with a 14-week share through the months of December, February, and March (we do not hold pick-ups during the month of January).

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_0692What’s Offered?
We will be offering winter-harvested greens from our greenhouses every week such as kale, bok choi and spinach as well as garlic, onions, potatoes, rutabagas, carrots, beets, sweet potatoes, leeks, celeriac, fall radishes, turnips, daikon radishes, 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. (EBT can be accepted for Winter CSA shares)

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.7th, Dec. 21st, Feb. 1st, Feb. 15th, March 1st, March 15th, March 29th.

There is a limit of shares that we can accommodate in the winter so sign-up early!  Payment can be made anytime between now and the first pick-up.  Payment plans are also available.

Sign Up Today by emailing John and say “I want a Winter CSA Share!”

Farm Tour/CSA Update

IMG_1278Hello!  We hope everyone is doing well and enjoying this fairly erratic summer weather we are having.  Mindy made it down to the beach yesterday for her birthday on what seemed like potentially the best beach day possible.  I was jealous!   Stuck on the farm like a dolt!

We are making some progress on our new property and would like to invite you all out for a farm tour!  We haven’t managed to hold a farm tour in many years due mostly to the high degree of distractibility I incumber in the summer time.  But thanks to the efforts of some of our CSA members persisting in their demands we have acquiesced!  Farm Tour will take place:

Saturday August 19th @ 1pm

1012 Snake Hill Rd N Scituate RI 02857

Please Park on HuntingHouse Rd on the Farm-Side of the Road (coming from Providence this is a left hand turn off of Snake Hill Rd)

Use HuntingHouse Rd Farm Gate to Enter.

We Will Converge at the Barn

The tour will begin promptly at 1pm so feel free to drop in earlier and get settled.  Important! The farm has much poison ivy in the headlands so WEAR CLOSED FOOTWEAR AND LONG PANTS.  We have washing area and a porto-john to accommodate you.  The tour will last for a couple hours or so and will be an opportunity to ask questions and get a holistic view of whats going on out there.  Look forward to seeing you there!

IMG_1292CSA Update 

We hope you have been enjoying all the produce that we have been bringing.  We have been happy (and relieved) to be bringing tomatoes to pick-up these last few weeks and hopefully they will continue streaming in through September.  Our peppers and eggplant will be in very short supply I’m disappointed to say, but we will be bringing summer potatoes, celery, fennel and more tomatoes to pick-up this month.  Fall vegetables will soon be on their way as well.  Starting in September we will have lots more kale, spinach, bok choi, kohlrabi, rutabagas, turnips, beets, carrots, radishes, and potatoes.  Summer squash is making a comeback too and we should have some more squash and zucchini at the pick-ups soon.

Our chickens are laying copious amounts of eggs and we are accepting a few extra egg share customers.  If you are interested in signing up for eggs (1/2 dozen or full dozen each week) let us know!  Thanks as always for your enthusiasm and support of our farm!!!

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

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!



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.


Goals and Aspirations

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


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


Big Train Farm is now on Instagram!

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