By Laurel Blomquist, Head Gardener | As 2018 draws to a close, and the Thanksgiving holiday grows near, I pause to reflect on what we accomplished this first season at Gwenyn Hill Farm. It’s hard to believe that just nine months ago, the greenhouse didn’t have a water supply, the packing shed didn’t have a cooler, and most importantly, we didn’t have any members to sell produce to.
Planting the Seeds
The physical aspects of the farm, including buildings, equipment, machines, seeds, plants, and workers, all came together relatively quickly. We made plans last winter, we followed through on those plans, and one by one, plants started going into the ground, and the farm took shape.
Linda and I laid the groundwork last winter to find members, too. We drove from house to house, bearing gifts of sunflower seeds and introducing ourselves and the farm. We met neighbors who were very enthusiastic about what we planned to do. We attended events at schools, hospitals, and community centers to meet more folks and spread the word.
Linda and I had initially set a goal of having one hundred members in our first season. Most farmer friends of ours laughed at such a lofty goal. I’m proud to say that by October, we achieved this. We also met countless more customers at the Brookfield Farmers Market.
Laying Down Roots
Over the past few weeks, we’ve been surveying our members and holding small focus groups to get feedback on how we can improve the CSA experience. Our members are passionate about the farm and have given us some great things to think about. I think what struck me the most is that our members say that they initially were drawn to the farm because they wanted to eat fresh, local vegetables, or they wanted to participate directly in the restoration and conservation of this piece of land. What they didn’t know is that they would feel part of a community.
Linda and I designed the CSA with community at the helm. We knew that offering people fresh vegetables wasn’t enough. That’s why we invite our members to come to the farm each week. As much as they want to know us, we want to know them and their families. We took pictures of our members at the beginning of the season, and it’s remarkable to see how much everyone has changed in the past four months. The changes haven’t been just physical, though. The bonds of community have strengthened with each passing week.
Reaping the Benefits of Community
Now, our members say things like, “The staff makes us feel like part of their family,” “We can see that the employees have a passion for what they do,” “I love seeing kids interact in the process: choosing their vegetables, trying the food, and harvesting in the U-Pick,” and “This is by far the best CSA we have ever joined. It can’t compare.”
I’m so humbled by these sentiments. It means that in these times, when our world seems so divided, we can come together on a beautiful piece of land and feel like one human family again. The simple act of caring for a few plants has become so much more than that. Our members made it happen. I look forward to many more years of cultivating relationships, fertilizing friendships, and sustaining a sense of community in this corner of Wisconsin. Thank you all for being a part of this journey.
Laurel Blomquist has been a chef, baker, and teacher. She now serves as Head Gardener at Gwenyn Hill Farm.