Let me preface this week’s column with a disclaimer. Elizabeth Keen is a farmer who I have known from a distance as we both circle through our community – smiling as we pass. This is her BUSY time. She didn’t have time to sit and answer questions but generously set aside time for a lovely phone conversation covering the typical list of Freak of the Week questions and more. This week’s column combines information gathered from our discussion and Indian Line Farm’s promotional material. What is Community Supported Agriculture? CSA brings together community members and farmers in a relationship of mutual support based on an annual commitment to one another. At Indian Line Farm, members purchase a "share" of the anticipated harvest and make payment in advance at an agreed upon price. In exchange, the farmers plant, cultivate, harvest, wash and provide a bountiful selection of vegetables, fruit, flowers and herbs. In short, the farmer and members become partners in the production, distribution and consumption of locally grown food.
Indian Line Farm was one of the first CSA farms in the United States when Robyn Van En, Jan Vander Tuin and a group of local community members started it in 1985. Currently, there are over 1,700 CSA farms feeding hundreds of thousands of people throughout North America.
Indian Line Farm is a 17-acre farm located in South Egremont, Massachusetts. Farmers Elizabeth Keen and Al Thorp have been growing at Indian Line Farm since 1997. In 1999 they formally purchased the farm using a unique partnership model with the Community Land Trust in the Southern Berkshires and The Nature Conservancy. Now they operate the farm with the help of dedicated employees and apprentices.
Our conversation went something like this:
Cff: Tell our readers a little bit about yourself.
EK: I love to be outside I love to make things beautiful and to be physically active. I love to exercise, and I am somewhat of an introvert even though I get tons of energy from being with others.
Cff: If you could make one change in the world, what would it be?
EK: I would make it easier to come to consensus, easier to break down the barriers of communication. Even people who think they understand each other sometimes don’t. I see this issue with people who care about each other and who all want the same thing arguing across a barrier of misunderstanding.
Cff: Who has been most influential in your work?
EK: Well there is not just one individual but a whole slew of farmers- Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training has continued to be an amazing resource to me and Al. They answer questions, and provide support. We would have felt very alone without them. They have helped, encouraged and have been willing to share all along the way. This reminds me of how generous people have been with me and encourages me to be generous with my knowledge too.
Cff: Where do you find inspiration?
EK: I am very inspired by customers and members, those who make a commitment to our farm. Their commitment is sometimes overwhelming. It makes me want to keep going. I have also found inspiration in our weekly email. It provides a stage for creative writing, reflective writing, and observations to flow. I am inspired by my ability to write and reflect and get feedback on that writing from the people who come to the farm.
Cff: Aside from working how do you like to spend your time?
EK: Well, I if given the opportunity, I love to curl up with a good novel. That doesn’t happen often this time of year. I LOVE Crossfit! 4 months out of the year I can’t do it and I feel a little off. The rest of the year I just love it! I love to be active with my kids, to ski, hike, and teach the love of being outdoors. (kids are Helen 7 Colin10) Oh and I love needle felting, knitting, and really wish I had all the time in the world!
Cff: Tell about a transforming memory or magical moment that proved life-changing.
EK: 2 things
1. I lived and worked in Guatemala for four years before coming to farming. There I traveled with a group of refugees from Mexico going back to Guatemala. The energy and momentum was life changing. To be surrounded by a group of people who had nothing, who worked so hard to go back to the homes they had to flee from taught me what is right and what we actually need in our lives and what we do for a our family. Definitely life-changing.
2. Sarah Hudson, is a woman who was on a delegation with me in Guatemala who happened to be from Tyringham. I came to visit her after returning to this country and told her I wanted to work on a farm. Sarah took me to Mahaiwe Harvest where David ingalls was a little grumpy but answered my questions. Later I realized I had interrupted his work time. The sun was setting while the moon was rising behind me. It was magical. I met Al that day. We didn’t speak but passed. That whole meeting changed my life.
Cff: What is your favorite place and/or way to spend time?
EK: My favorite place is Culebra Puerto Rico. We go every year and camp on the beach. It is the most relaxed I am all year.
Cff: If you were able to spend an afternoon with any one person – dead or alive, who would it be? Why and what would you plan for your time together?
EK: Well I had a guest Professor of Peace Studies he was from Notre Dame – I went to Colorado College. He had a huge influence in the two weeks I learned from him. He was the first person who encouraged me to look at peace and justice work, as work. I once heard him speak on NPR on Mt Holyoke Education Minute! He really had a significant impact in my life and I have not been in touch with him for 25 years.
Cff: What is your goal or main focus for your next 12 months?
EK: We are limited by land space and cannot do any major expansion – 5 acres of vegetables, a mix of CSA and Farmers Market produce. A big change this year is that we lost a long time employee (8yrs) and hired 3 newbies. While the learning curve is underway – and time consuming the change makes me realize we need to be more systematic. Post signs and directives in accessible locations throughout the farm - in the green house, at the wash station. . . We need to be better set up, more organized and articulate. The systemizing is underway and really helpful for all of us.
Cff: Thank you Elizabeth for the peek inside your way. Thanks too for the education on how your CSA works and for sticking with it as you have to feed and inspire a whole new generation of farmers and healthy eaters.