We are right in the middle of Roxbury Farm’s 25th year as a farm and business. Jean-Paul started the farm on five acres about 15 miles from our present location in 1990. (The CSA started in 1991, so a farm party will be in order during the 2016 season.) He planned on selling head lettuce and greens towholesalers who sold to health-food stores and restaurants in NYC. During the summer of 1990, the price
for head lettuce dropped to half the price that Jean-Paul and wholesale companies had originally agreed upon. So, Jean-Paul plowed up the head lettuce and planted baby greens. I can’t imagine what that must have felt like; your first season as an independent farmer with a carefully laid out plan to make enough money to support your family, pay your operating loan, and invest back into the farm to grow the business only to have to completely start over in the middle of the growing season. In the end, Jean-Paul had a successful first season, he paid back his operating loan and made enough money to buy new equipment for the next season.
The following winter a group of people from the Center for Anthroposophy in NYC approached Jean-Paul and asked him to start a CSA relationship with a group of families at the Center. The idea of committed customers who could help create a more just system around food production and distribution must have been a breath of fresh air. While there were a few CSA farms in the Northeast this would be the first one to go into an urban center far from the farm itself so Jean-Paul wasn’t sure if the concept would work. Together the first 30 families and Jean-Paul decided to take the risk and in 1991, the Roxbury Farm CSA community began.
If we pay farmers less than what it costs to produce milk, meat, grains, etc. is it a surprise that agriculture looks the way it does today? How can we ask farmers to pay reasonable wages, care for the land, and produce high quality food when they aren’t sure if they will make enough money to pay their bills? The CSA relationship was a way to create and promote a more equitable way of producing and purchasing food. CSA gives a voice to the farmer and the customer on how, why, and what is grown on a farm and how it gets to the customer. How do we grow this idea of equity and food production beyond the CSA relationship to a wider audience of farmers and customers?
This year you will see fewer letters from Jean-Paul because he has the opportunity to find answers to this question through a new project in Kingston. The Local Economies Project is concerned with developing healthy communities around food production, distribution, and education, starting in the Hudson Valley region.
Part of this project is to create a place to train new farmers, conduct agricultural research and promote the best agricultural practices for a more resilient food system into the future. In the fall of 2013, the Local Economies Project purchased a farm in Hurley to start the first “farm hub” which is now called the Hudson Valley Farm Hub.
Last season Jean-Paul was part of a group of farmers working to convert the farm to organic practices. Then in November, he began working at the Farm Hub full
time. He is a member of the team working collaboratively to create a model farm along with professional farmer training, conducting research on best farming practices, and to explore what it looks like to have an equitable food production and distribution system on a larger scale.
What does it look like for everyone involved in growing and distributing food to have a voice and a stake in the outcome? How can we create a more resilient food
system as we deal with the challenges of climate change? How can we make sure that farmers and farmworkers are paid a fair price and are growing food that brings health and wellness to the people who eat it? How can we put anend to food deserts and make healthy food affordable for everyone? These are just a few of the challenge questionsJean-Paul and the Farm Hub team hope to work towards
We have explored these ideas at Roxbury Farm and will continue to work on them. But, with the financial pressures of being a production farm that makes its income
from growing vegetables we are limited in our ability to explore too far. The Farm Hub has the opportunity to develop radical ideas that could lead to wide spread change of the food system. Which I think is why Jean-Paul didn’t throw in the towel 25 years ago, he had bigger plans than just growing lettuce.
Will you notice that things are different on the farm besides not seeing as many letters from Jean-Paul? Hopefully not. We have a great team of farmers working
together to provide you with the quality of produce and meat that you expect from us. Over the years we have developed systems that guide us through our work, even the tasks we haven’t done before. I am enjoying (and I think the rest of the farm team, too) learning new skills and tasks as we fill the roles Jean-Paul used to cover. We benefit from new ideas coming from the Farm Hub and the excitement around the project. Besides the use of smart phones allows Jean-Paul to be a text or email away when we run into questions and since farmers work seven days a week, we find him out in the field with us on Saturdays and Sundays.
Photo: John Gill, Director of Farm Operations at Hudson Valley Farm Hub, with Jean-Paul