If you go to a Chinese restaurant this month and receive a fortune cookie that foretells good times, it may mean you are supposed to attend this year?s farm tour at Natural Products Expo East on Saturday, Sept. 17 from noon to 5 p.m.
This year it will be our good fortune to visit a farm by the same name. Good Fortune Farm is owned by Mike and Michelle Klein and located about an hour south of the White House, in Brandywind, Md.
The Kleins purchased their farm in southern Prince George?s County in 1997, but until last year Mike worked full time as a scientist at a medical products company. Michelle still works off the farm to provide the couple?s health insurance. They began as hobby farmers who were committed to growing vegetables organically. They qualified for organic certification from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2002 and now have six of their 11 acres in organic production. Devoted to providing extremely fresh, seasonal produce to the local market, Mike grows familiar greens like kale, collards and spinach as well as Asian greens like mizuna or tatsoi.
While the Kleins? original focus was to grow for commercial buyers and restaurants, they transitioned to the community-supported agriculture model in 2002. So now Mike also grows sweet potatoes, broccoli, cucumbers, eggplant, peas, sweet and hot peppers, potatoes and 8,000 row-feet of asparagus for his CSA customers. His members receive six to 10 items each week from mid-May through mid-November.
Mike understands that the hectic reality of Washington, D.C., life means his customers are busy people, so he does not expect them to be actively involved with the farming or require a minimum time input like many other CSA models do. In this way his is more of a subscription farm than a traditional CSA. He does, however, want his members to experience the best produce possible, so he selects varieties primarily for taste; most are open-pollinated heirloom plants.
Though members aren?t required to visit the farm, Mike wants them to have greater appreciation for what they eat. He e-mails a weekly newsletter that explains the different steps in production and the seasonal fluctuations of food. It also offers tips and cooking methods. By participating in the CSA, members have an opportunity to try new things or, as Mike puts it, ?to reestablish their food likes? by tasting turnips or peas for the first time since they were kids. He guarantees that it will not be like the stuff they remember.
Mike encourages members to share this experience with children and friends in the hope that this new approach will open their minds as much as it generates joy for their taste buds.
And while Mike likes to make it easy to enjoy the farm?s bounty without the work, members can participate in the farming experience. He opens up the farm to them at different times each year for events such as garlic harvesting or sweet potato planting.
In addition to growing organic vegetables, Mike raises free-range poultry for meat and eggs as part of his diversification strategy. The chickens, however, are not fed organic feed. Mike instead uses movable pens around the farm, where the chickens eat worms, insects, seeds and pasture feed. Mike believes this method provides a safe and healthy life for these animals and a better-tasting bird for his customers.
In the 2004 growing season, Mike?s CSA had 28 members. This year it has grown to 65. And the value to the members doesn?t stop with the farm?s products. Mike likes to think of the CSA as a great networking opportunity. Members include diverse, interesting people such as musicians, woodworkers, graphic artists, homeopathic physicians, stay-at-home moms and home brewers.
I hope you will come make a connection yourself as we drive from the District and out to the countryside. Mike will provide the farm and the hay bales, and we?ll provide the transportation, the lunch and drinks. What better way to take in the bounties of the harvest season?
Mark Mulcahy runs Organic Options, an organic education and produce consulting firm. He can be reached at 707.939.8355 or at [email protected]
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVI/number 9/p. 34