A Reverse CSA: Turning Unused Land Into Food


the author and farmer Bill laying ground cover material 

Kurt and Bill laying ground cover material. Photo by Melissa Clemens

I love the idea of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) where a farmer supplies subscribers a basket of produce each week. Throughout the growing season, subscribers get a surprise basket of tomatoes, lettuce, peppers, or whatever else the farmer can grow and harvest. This way of getting produce direct to consumers is an excellent model of food procurement, but since I already grow much of my own produce, it doesn’t work for me.

I have a tiny backyard garden and yearn for more land to plant with crops like watermelon, peppers, tomatoes, and corn. A farmer I know just up the road in Kingsville Maryland owns Wilbur’s Farm has more land than he can work each growing season. For the last five years I’ve got to know farmer Bill and have been buying his produce I’m not able to grow on my little plot. Back in late March I approached Bill and asked if we could do a “Reverse CSA” this year where I’d plant on a section of his farm and give him one-quarter of the crops.

I told Bill my responsibility would be to prep the two rows of approximately 100 feet long, plant seeds, starter plants, and do all weeding. Bill wouldn’t have to contribute anything except the land. It wouldn’t be just myself working the reverse CSA. I’d have two of my neighbors and their kids to help plant, weed, pick, and water. Each household would get one-quarter of the yield and pay 33% of the costs to buy seeds, tomato cages, and other supplies.

My neighbors were excited to be able to grow veggies and get the kids out on the farm to see where some of their food comes from. In this day and age, most kids have little or no idea of where vegetables and fruit are sourced. Many kids think this food comes from the grocery store. By introducing kids to farming, even on a small scale like this reverse CSA, it teaches them about nature and the environment. The benefits to the three families are, growing our produce organically, teaching their kids about vegetable gardening, helping a farmer, and possibly giving lots of excess bounty to local food banks.

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