Apr 23, 2012 Jason Emerson Uncategorized
Mother Nature can be a fickle overseer for farmers, as evidenced by early April temperatures up near 80 degrees but snow this past Sunday night. “We always joke that Mother Nature runs the roost, but this year everything looks pretty good so far,” said Richard Malcolm, owner, along with his wife Rebecca, of Schoolhouse Farms in Borodino.
The Malcolms, who farm mostly by hand on about 15 acres of land on Rose Hill Road just off the four corners of Borodino, currently are planting and preparing not just for the upcoming growing season but also for their third year offering a Community Supported Agriculture program.
A CSA is a relationship between local farmers and community members who pay the farmer an annual membership fee to cover the production costs of the farm. In turn, members receive a weekly share of the harvest during the local growing season. The arrangement guarantees the farmer financial support and enables many small- to moderate-scale organic family farms to remain in business.
“Our shareholders invest in our farm and we give them an opportunity to get involved in agriculture from a different perspective,” Malcolm said. “With a CSA people know who grows their food and where it comes from, they know it’s organic and fresh and that they are helping to maintain a small local farm.”
Schoolhouse Farms — named for the nineteenth-century schoolhouse in the property which the Malcolms restored — runs its CSA a little differently than most, however, in that they offer free delivery to their shareholders within the 13152 zip code.
“One of our shareholders has told us that Tuesday is the best day of the week because when they come home from work their produce is there waiting for them,” said Rebecca Malcolm. “Our customers really love that.”
CSAs are not uncommon in Central New York or even in the Skaneateles area, with Laxton Nursery on West Lake Road offering its own variant of a CSA program.
The Malcolms decided to become a CSA farm in 2010 as a way to help make the farm viable in a struggling economy and as a result of the downsizing of the company Richard worked for. For 10 years before that, Schoolhouse Farms was more of a hobby for Rebecca who loved farming and selling the produce at her own farmside stand and at area Farmers’ Markets.
“Our dream was to do this together, and Richard liked to say, ‘Yeah I’ll quit my job someday and farm with,” Rebecca said.
“Oh what dreams may come!” Richard added with a smile and a laugh.
So as Richard transitioned between jobs, he helped Rebecca with the farming. The farm — which is a pesticide-free, organic microfarm — expanded in size and scope from five to 15 acres, and the Malcolms started offering the CSA program. Schoolhouse Farms now offers more than 80 varieties of produce, and are best known for their heirloom tomatoes, beans and summer squash. As their farm has expanded so has their popularity, customer base and CSA participants.
“We had the pleasure, gustatory and otherwise, of getting fresh, fresh, organically produced greens, tomatoes, potatoes, herbs, etc. each week from the folks at Schoolhouse Farms in Borodino. Not only was the produce exceptional but Becky Muir included a weekly insert that explained the more exotic varieties and how to prepare them,” said Ann Ferro, of Marcellus, who participated in the CSA program last year. “We ate well. We felt particularly good about our decision to purchase our share because we believe that supporting local agriculture is not only good for the economy, it contributes to better health and a cleaner environment. If there was any drawback, and I hardly think that it is, but I had a hard time finding ways to use all of the lovely, dark green and oh so fragrant basil that we received. Can’t wait for this year’s season to begin.”
Elizabeth and Evan Dreyfuss, of Skaneateles, have signed up for their first year of dividends with Schoolhouse Farms, and are eager for the season to begin.
“There are so many reasons CSA makes sense, it is a win-win for everyone, allowing farmers to operate while consumers get fresh, local food,” Elizabeth Dreyfuss said. “Also, it forces us to eat a little healthier and try new recipes having all those vegetables in front of us each week. I recently saw a sign that said ‘No Farms, No Food.’ CSA makes it easy to ensure our local farms continue to exist while having access to food at its best.”
One of the more unique offerings of Schoolhouse Farms is its quince jams. Quince fruit was once a staple of the region in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but is not so common now. When the Malcolms originally bought their farm, they found a quince tree already growing on the property. They cultivated it and planted some more and now offer quince preserves every year. Along with the quince trees, the Malcolms also have blackcurrent, pear and apple trees.
Farming is a difficult occupation and dependent on the weather. Last year, an extremely wet spring was followed by a summer drought, which effected production. “We hand watered 10 acres of fields with milk jugs full of water just keep the plants alive and the farm viable,” Rebecca remembered. “Last year it was all peppers and eggplants that grew — no root plants.”
And that is one of the risks of a CSA program the Malcolms point out: farmers are at the whim of the weather, and although they constantly monitor and modify their produce, ultimate yields and CSA dividends may not always be as large as they would prefer.
“It is an investment, like a share in the farm, but we always return something on those dividends,” Richard said.
Planting has only just begun at Schoolhouse Farms and will not be completed until the end of May, and so far the Malcolms have planted peas, arugula, white baby turnips, lettuce, beets, rhubarb, tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, onions, cabbage and broccoli and their greenhouses and raised beds.
The Malcolms also continue looking to the future and have begun planting Riesling grapes, which could eventually be made into wine. They also are in the midst of creating a stand-alone summer agri-kitchen in which their produce can be processed into items such as jellies and jams and offered for sale.
Schoolhouse Farms typically limits its CSA program to 20 dividends/participants. The cost is $550 for the season (about $35 per week), which runs from June through September. Each weeks’ delivery consists of seven to eight items that vary with the harvest season.
Applications are still available for remaining dividends. For more information on Schoolhouse Farms and its CSA program call 673-0744 or visit borodinomarket.blogspot.com.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Skaneateles Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.