By BETH ALTENA
The food you ate for dinner last night traveled to you from places farther than your last vacation if your shopping patterns are typical. Farmer Deane Brengle offers what he believes is a better option.
“Community-supported agriculture is a new way to buy vegetables in season,” he stated. Last year Deane visited the Squire offices, among other businesses in town and dropped off a box of free goodies—beans, carrots, lettuces, broccoli and other just-picked vegetables—paired nicely with a description of each item and a recipe suggestion.
Farmer Deane is part of the buy-local movement and wants to partner with people who enjoy fresh, wholesomely grown food, from garden goods to eggs, chickens, pigs and turkeys, but who don’t have the time or ability to grow their own.
A carpenter by trade, Deane’s livelihood took a tumble when the economy turned sour and he was faced with the decision of retiring really early or finding a new living. On twenty acres, although only five are tillable, Deane turned a love of farming into that new career. “I’m a workaholic,” he said of his decision. He lives on a farm with his family, the family dog, horses, pigs, and a huge garden. He decided not to offer his goods through the farm market way of selling because so often a good day is dependent on the weather and other factors beyond human control. “On a day like this, (rainy) you come back with your produce and it’s not fresh anymore.”
Deane offers memberships—shares—in his garden which allows members to pay in advance for a weekly box of fresh produce during the growing season, including an option for eggs—which are either delivered by Deane himself or available for pick-up at the farm.
“It’s know your food, know your farmer,” Deane said of the movement toward community-supported agriculture. Theoretically CSAs are ideal for busy, dual income couples who just don’t have the time to garden, but the idea and choice is perfect for any number of individuals or families.
Full shares start at $30 a week and provide eighteen weeks of produce including eight to twelve different varieties of vegetables. Grown naturally and with organic practices, vegetables come to the shareholders in their natural order, spring greens first, lettuces, beets, bunching onions and grow as summer gears up, with beans, corn, cucumbers, kohl rabi, bok choi and other mid-season produce.
Farm-direct food is a growing movement, in part, as people face concerns about the safety of what they buy and eat. At Deane’s Chimney Creek Farm, located on 7 Mile Road in Belding, shareholders can visit the farm and see how the garden is growing. Deane and his wife Linda also keep bees as well as the other farm creatures. Beekeeping, like growing your own food, is also an interest that is falling back into public favor as the enormous impact of bees is becoming more fully understood.
Visitors to the farm will learn about the organic practices there. “The worst thing we spray is made of chrysanthamums,” Deane noted. Deane can see the long future this growing industry may have. He is considering expanding into flower farming with the same idea and would love to build the CSA in partnership with others—a honey, maple syrup, jam, jelly and bread producers offering shares together. He offers the meat portion of his sales not as shares but as purchases—fresh turkey ready in time for Thanksgiving or other specific day—never frozen. The home-grown pigs, chickens and turkey offer the same benefits the fresh produces provides.
“Everyone is worried about food distribution, and the rule of thumb is that your food has traveled to you farther than when you went on your last vacation,” he said. It is a fact of life we have brought on ourselves, craving and buying items that can’t be grown in our own backyard year around.
Deane said he understands the desire to purchase our favorite foods at any time, and those beautiful strawberries on the store shelves look lovely in the dead of winter. He said the labels of organics are not necessarily a guarantee of wholesomeness. He applauds the efforts of stores that are wise to the benefit of having a relationship with suppliers—another trend of shopping local that goes hand in hand with the concept of CSA.
The extra care and effort to provide factual information about the produce provided to members is a touch Farmer Deane enjoys and knows people appreciate. “We grow everything that grows,” he stated. Which may be more vegetable varieties than the average consumer might know how to handle. He said for the uninitiated, a kohlrabi can be a daunting dinner dilemma. Other veggies might also be off the beaten path in the average kitchen.
“I have a terrific recipe for brussel sprouts and bacon,” he said. “Everytime you get a new vegetable you get a recipe and storage tips.”
“We grow everything using only what nature intended, not GMO seeds, no pesticides, no chemical fertilizers. We do use sustainable farming methods, natural soil amendments, cover crops, compost and manure to fertilize.”
Deane said his shares are limited to just 75 full shares because of the size of his farm, but beyond this limitation he is very pleased to be providing a healthful, natural service to those unable to farm themselves. People might be surprised at the amount of work a farm requires as well.
“There is an incredible amount of math involved,” he said. Figuring out space and requirements for each different crop takes some work. “For 144 broccoli you have two plants per row foot with twelve inches on center, plus you have to have multiple plantings for one share for six different deliveries. That’s six times 144, that’s how much broccoli to plant.”
Even eggs take math in addition to care of the hens. Deane has forty hens laying three dozen eggs a day (not three dozen per hen). The meat chickens are all pasture chickens, which means the pens move daily for natural foraging, which means creating and following a schedule and increasing pen size and moving schedule as the bird increase in size. But there is the beauty of farming as well. The hens fertilize the ground as they forage, part of the cycle of life that can be seen as clearly on a working farm as perhaps in any other place.
Chimney Creek Farm serves families in the Grand Rapids metro area, throughout northeast Kent County, and is online at www.chimneycreekfarm.com.