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Farmers Almanac
The 2014 Farmers Almanac
Farmers' Almanac

This Year, Try “Friend-Supported Agriculture”

This Year, Try “Friend-Supported Agriculture”

Four summers ago, my husband and I bought a work-share at a local Community Supported Agriculture farm. It was our first time joining a CSA and I blogged about the experience here at the Farmers’ Almanac.

I enjoyed working on the farm and learned a bit about farming along the way. We also got to try new foods as I hoped we would (garlic scapes and kohlrabi come to mind). However the farm was just a little too far to be convenient for us. Also, we had four children (at the time, we’ve since adopted one more) who made it difficult for me to get my weekly hours at the farm in. We decided to not do it again.

Since that time, we’ve maintained our home garden and supplemented that food by splitting a share at a closer farm with friends. (This time not a work share so we didn’t have to put in hours working). Last year, I had considered doing the same but my husband had a better idea; why not ask those friends who were considering splitting a share with us to help us with our garden at home instead?

I asked and they responded positively. Thus our home FSA (Friend Supported Agriculture) farm began.

Unlike real CSA work shares, there would be no logging of hours. The three friends involved were all trustworthy so I decided to proceed without any hard and fast rules. Instead I sent an email out about once a week listing what needed to be done on the upcoming weekend and then they’d come help me do it. Sometimes everyone could, sometimes only one could, but the work would all get done.

Weeding the entire garden by myself was always an arduous task that I loathed and would put off until it was almost out of control. With friends coming to help, it became something I looked forward to. Having someone to talk to made the time fly and the many hands lightened the load. It was also wonderful being able to catch up with these friends on a regular basis–even though they all live locally, our busy schedules usually keep us from seeing each other as much as we’d like to.

Everyone was dedicated to the garden so they showed up nearly every weekend. I knew by starting the FSA we’d be growing food together, but I didn’t realize how much we’d also be growing our relationships! It was an unexpected bonus to our plan.

Our abilities ranged from one who had never had a garden to one who used to work in a (flower, not vegetable) garden for the County Parks Department. I quickly found that the one who had never gardened really meant it when she didn’t know the difference between weeds and seedlings. I learned the hard way to be more careful in showing her what to do after a few poor pea plants were lost.

When harvest time came, we hauled the food into my kitchen and divvied it up. It wasn’t always split exactly evenly because of family sizes and preferences, but everyone left happy and with arms loaded with food.

There were a few problems along the way, but they were the kind that we’d have had anyway–animals finding a weak spot in our fencing system, tomato blight, and flea beetles on the eggplant leaves. But this time I had friends to help me troubleshoot and problem solve. Ultimately, I am sure I got more food from the CSA, but by doing our FSA at home, I got to do all my gardening on my own property with my good friends while our children played together in the yard, sometimes coming in to see interesting caterpillars or snatch a tomato. There was less work for me, and I got to strengthen my bonds with my friends. I am looking forward to doing it again this summer and I think my friends are, too.

4 comments

1 maria { 05.05.14 at 3:28 am }

Love this! What about a coop where you have several friends with home gardens of their own, sharing/swapping their bounty? You could increase you variety of fresh fruits/veggies without increasing the work! Agree ahead of time to swap certain things. Or just bring what you have and allow everyone to pick and choose. Include things like herbs (which I’m really good at), veggies (which I’m not so good at), fruit like blueberries and figs (which I usually have an abundance of!) etc. I’m so happy.

2 Sean Kibler { 04.03.14 at 1:42 pm }

Great story thanks for sharing. Now you should try introducing some permaculture techniques and mitigate so much need for daily labor. Things like hugelkulture (burying wood logs with dirt and planting into it), companion planting, and improving nearby pest predator habitat could decrease the amount of time you and your neighbors spend doing hard work. Instead you could just hang out and point at the garden doing work for you and just talk to your neighbors! Just a suggestion, I would like to see more of America doing what your family and neighbors are doing. There would be much less crime and poverty.

3 Cyndi Sandlin { 03.31.14 at 11:26 am }

square foot gardening boxes are awesome to use and can easily be built out of pressure treated landscaping timbers – I have a herb box and a tomato box and am waiting for a couple others to be built for squash and a few bell peppers. A 4 x 4 box is perfect and weed control is a breeze and pest control is managed by DE (Diatomaceous Earth) bought locally and sprinkled on plants – also good for flea and tick control on our colony of feral cats. Mel Bartholomew is the squarefoot gardening advocate and the method can be researched online. I believe in the KISS principle and gardening in a box lets you control the quality of the dirt/compost etc as well as the needs of the plants – as an example, my tomatoes get coffee grounds because they are such acid lovers ! Whatever you do have fun doing it and
enjoy your harvest !!! Lettuce, spinach and kale do well in the boxes – it is wonderful having kale in the winter months !!!

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4 Wilf Toop { 03.31.14 at 8:22 am }

This is a great way to teach your young family were food comes from and they love trying to harvest it. Try it in your flower bed or just a small patch in your back yard, good fun for all. OK we have to get rid of winter first.

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