Natural Foods Merchandiser

Fertile Ground Brings a Healthy Harvest

Produce Perspectives

Everyone likes a two-for-one deal, right? Well, that?s what you?ll get when you join me on this year?s farm tour during Natural Products Expo East. This year we get to visit two farms.

First, we?ll tour Wildcat Spring Farm, a 124-acre haven located 22 miles northwest of Washington, D.C. Since 1996, Wildcat Spring has grown 40 different vegetables on less than 5 acres. Then we?ll head a short 9 miles down the road and visit the historic 290-acre Ovid Hazen Wells Park where, nestled among the rolling hills, is a new 10-acre parcel of farmland. Together, the acreage at Wildcat Spring and Ovid Hazen Wells form the Red Wiggler Community Farm.

During the tour, the farm?s founder, Woody Woodroof, will talk about what he and his growers do to wrap up their farming season. He?ll cover everything from tilling and cover cropping to the fall garlic planting that delivers a crop nine months later. He?ll also talk about how the farm is collaborating with Montgomery County, Md., on a new composting program.

But as we get a chance to stroll among the end-of-season greens (chard and kale), herbs and flowers, you?ll come to find out what I discovered a few years ago on my first visit—that Red Wiggler Community Farm produces more than just tasty, sustainably grown crops. It is in the business of growing healthy jobs, communities and people. The farm exists to provide developmentally disabled adults an alternative to traditional sheltered-workshop employment programs.

I guess the farm?s tag line says it best: We create fertile ground to nourish a healthy and inclusive community.

You see, Woodroof founded Red Wiggler in 1996 to create a vibrant and dynamic community farm where everyone involved had a place at the table, in the field and at the marketplace.

The farm?s mission is threefold. It strives to provide and cultivate:

  • Meaningful employment for adults with developmental disabilities. The growers plant, care for and harvest the crops, and meet the customers who buy their produce. For many growers, their relationship with Red Wiggler goes back eight years and provides them with vocational satisfactions they might not otherwise enjoy.
  • Educational opportunities for area youth, including the ability to participate in all aspects of the growing cycle. Youth with and without disabilities help with harvests and often glean food from the fields for delivery to area food banks.
  • >
  • Environmental stewardship. The farm actively preserves open farmland, creates and maintains fertile ground using sustainable agricultural practices and opens its doors to groups (such as our Expo tour) interested in learning how it all happens in concert with nature. Red Wiggler also provides education about environmentally friendly farming practices to those who participate in its community-supported agriculture program.

So, along with growing and selling high-quality, homegrown vegetables in Montgomery County, the community farm acts as a living tool, providing meaningful employment that offers each participant many ways to develop his or her skills.

Red Wiggler strives to develop a sense of connectedness and belonging for its growers. Each grower plants seeds, nurtures the plants and, finally, harvests the fruits of his or her labors. Then comes the final connection: The people who grow the food meet face to face with the people who buy and eat the food. This is especially important because it is in this setting where people get to meet people as people.

And then, there at the market and on the farm, the labels and preconceived notions melt away in favor of the basic idea that you are supporting real pay for an honest day?s work by a darn good grower.

Take a small respite from the show?s hustle and bustle and enjoy the beautiful autumn drive to these farms. We?ll provide transportation and a delicious lunch, and the opportunity to learn about how one farm can grow a healthy community. See you there!

Mark Mulcahy runs an organic education and produce consulting firm. He can be reached at 707.939.8355, or [email protected]

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXV/number 10/p. 44

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