As much-needed rain soaks into the NEK soil, local vegetable farms are kicking into high gear with farm stands, choice-based CSA options, online storefronts and more.
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares have been around for decades: members pay a sum up-front to “invest” in the farm, often long before the season starts, and then receive a share of what’s in season every week.
While some love the surprise involved in a weekly veggie box, some farms — including Barnet’s Small Axe Farm and Joe’s Brook Farm — have adapted to let customers choose what they want in order to decrease customer waste and help local families please sometimes-picky children.
Joe’s Brook Farm
Mary Skovsted started Joe’s Brook Farm in Barnet with her husband, Eric, around 2008. While she was initially hesitant to offer CSA shares as a farm that was just starting out, a neighbor asked if Joe’s Brook could “just leave some veggies in a bucket for her” all summer.
“We thought about it and decided, well, we could do something like that just for a couple of people,” said Skovsted on Thursday. “Not in a bucket, though.”
The program has only grown since and now serves close to 100 members. The Skovsteds tweak details and offerings each year based on customer feedback.
“They’re all good friends, and many of them repeat customers,” said Skovsted.
About four or five years ago, Joe’s Brook Farm changed from a “surprise” box model to a customizable CSA, where members choose what they want — or don’t want — each week. While many show up at the farm stand at 1525 Joes Brook Road to pick out their own veggies from each week’s bounty, pre-filled customized boxes can also be picked up at the farm or in St. Johnsbury.
Members fill out a google form each week with where they want to pick up and what they want. The pick-up location can change weekly, as the Skovsted’s understand juggling busy schedules.
Skovsted, who generally greets customers as they come to pick up their shares, is especially excited about the farm’s spring CSA which begins on May 11.
“We get to see people again after being alone with our plants all winter,” she said. “They bring great enthusiasm that really fuels us and keeps us motivated.”
More information about share sizes and dates can be found at joesbrookfarm.com. Skovsted notes that the farm’s fall CSA runs long past first frost and all the way through to Thanksgiving.
“It’s not just potatoes and squash — it has such great variety and has all of the summer and winter produce,” said Skovsted.
The couple and a team of employees grow on about 10 acres of land each year with another 10 acres cover-cropped and in rotation. Pick-your-own strawberries usually begin in June.
Joe’s Brook Farm also sells at the St. Johnsbury, Lyndonville and Littleton, N.H. farmers’ markets as well as area grocery stores.
Their farm store is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day.
Small Axe Farm
Heidi Choate and Evan Perkins bought their land on Whitehill Road in Barnet back in 2002, moved there full-time in 2006 and started a very small CSA program in 2008.
“In the beginning, we were really just homesteading. But we knew if we wanted to guarantee enough produce for ourselves we should grow a little bit extra,” said Choate on Thursday. “So we started to do just a few CSA shares in our neighborhood at first.”
The couple runs a one-acre off-grid no-till farm and now deliver around 50 shares throughout the Northeast Kingdom and across the river in Littleton, N.H.
While giving customers some choice over their weekly veggies has been a tenant of Small Axe’s program for a while, Choate really got a handle on how to allow customization while minimizing work on her part as the pandemic began.
Small Axe Farm runs an online storefront where CSA customers get priority and can order as much or as little as they wish each week. If customers prefer, a box of items can be chosen by the farmers instead.
“Members have full access to our farm,” said Choate. “When you go to the grocery store or co-op, you’re able to access a few of our items, but when you sign up for our CSA you get full access to everything we’re growing.”
Those who wish to order more sporadically can do so from the farm’s online store as well.
Drop spots for CSA shares or online farm store orders are on Summer Street in St. Johnsbury, at East Burke Market, the Barnet Library, Barnet Quick Stop, Littleton Food Co-op, or at the bottom of Small Axe’s driveway in the hills of Barnet.
Choate says that the drop spots have deepened her feeling of connection with the community, as she usually gives each drop spot a few pounds of salad greens as a thank you and connects with owners and employees each week.
“There are people getting CSA shares who have been with us from the absolute beginning,” said Choate. “I don’t know what I’d do without them … we are so happy to be their farmer and grow specifically for each one of our customers.”
Choate said the season so far has been incredible and the entire farm has pretty much been planted already.
“It’s been an excessively good spring,” she said. “We got lucky … even when it dumped 11 inches of snow on us, the snow insulated everything from the cold and all of our row cover held.”
More information can be found at smallaxefarm.com
Roots Too Farm
Susan Monahan of Roots Too Farm in East St. Johnsbury is going into her seventh season cultivating about one acre of land.
“It feels really crazy for me to say that … I still feel like a beginner and I’m learning a lot every year,” she said on Friday.
Monahan, who was able to buy the 35-acre conserved property through the Vermont Land Trust’s farmland access program, started her CSA as a great way to connect with customers.
While their 19-week-CSA is full for the 2021 season, the farmstand on Route 2 is already open on Tuesdays through Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Roots Too Farm participates in the St. Johnsbury farmers market, which is set to begin on Saturday, May 8 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Pearl Street Lot.
Roots Too Farm also hosts outdoor summer farm yoga taught by Abby of Littleton’s Root to Bloom studio. Classes will begin sometime near the end of May and will be held on Thursday evenings.
“It’s amazing, even for me … because farming? It hurts,” said Monahan.
Updates and more information about Roots Too can be found on their Facebook page at facebook.com/rootstoofarm.
Other NEK vegetable farms include Firefly Farm in Burke, whose vegetable CSA is full but offers pay-ahead discount cards, a farm stand, and online ordering. More information can be found at fireflyfarmburkehollow.com.
Wilder Farm in Lyndonville also offers online ordering with delivery available within 10 miles of the farm. More information can be found at wilderfarmvt.com.