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Harvest Horizons: Inspiring Kids to Explore the World of CSA Farming

June 26, 2024

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Harvest Horizons: Inspiring Kids to Explore the World of CSA Farming

Farming, Family, and the Fortitude of the Flock

I can still remember the day my mom phoned me, her voice flustered and excited. “You’re not going to believe it,” she said, “there’s a picture of your grandmother in the New York Times today.” My grandmother had passed away decades ago, and as far as we knew, she had never been featured in a newspaper or magazine during her lifetime. So, what could this mean?

It turned out that the photo was from a 1941 LIFE magazine spread called “Occupation Housewife” – a photo essay that followed the daily routine of an “American housewife,” my grandmother. The image had been repurposed in the Times, with one key alteration: the original portrait of my great-great-great-grandfather had been swapped out for a photo of Betty Friedan, author of “The Feminine Mystique.”

My grandmother, it seemed, had become a symbol – her image used to illustrate stories that were not of her choosing. When my mom wrote a letter to the editor, she expressed her mother’s discomfort with being portrayed as a one-dimensional “typical American housewife.” After all, my grandmother was also a “voracious reader” and “committed liberal Democrat” who cared deeply about national and international issues.

This experience got me thinking about the complex, multifaceted nature of people – how we’re often reduced to single-serving stereotypes, even decades after we’re gone. It’s a phenomenon I’ve witnessed time and time again, both in my own life and in the lives of others. And it’s one of the reasons I’m so passionate about community-supported agriculture (CSA) and the way it allows us to connect with the land, the food we eat, and the people who grow it.

Rooted in Community

When I moved to Lawrence, Kansas in the early 1990s to pursue a graduate degree in painting, I found myself drawn to the world of agriculture, not art. My summer spent working on an organic farm in upstate New York had opened my eyes to a new way of thinking about food, community, and our relationship to the land. And as I settled into my new life in Lawrence, I knew I wanted to continue exploring those themes.

I reached out to a local farmer, Mark Lumpe, who was running Wakarusa Valley Farm. I worked alongside him for a few months, learning about the ups and downs of small-scale organic farming. But I soon realized that I wanted to do more than just work on someone else’s land – I wanted to start my own community-based project.

Inspired by the Boston Urban Gardeners (BUG) model I’d read about, I gathered a group of like-minded friends and set out to establish a neighborhood community garden. After a few false starts (including a devastating flood that wiped out our first proposed site), we landed on a grassy lot adjacent to the newly relocated Community Mercantile Co-op.

The Lawrence Community Gardening Project (LCGP) was born. Over the next decade, it grew into so much more than just a place to grow food. It became a hub of community activity, hosting workshops, arts events, and an annual harvest festival that closed off the alley and brought the neighborhood together with live music, chili, and an egg toss.

We even started selling our produce to the Co-op, inspired by the “garden-market” model in Kansas City. It was a place where people from all walks of life could come together, get their hands dirty, and connect over the shared joy of cultivating the land.

The Joys (and Challenges) of Community Farming

As I got more involved in the LCGP, I began to see the profound impact that community-based agriculture could have, not just on the food we eat, but on the way we relate to one another and the world around us. It was a place where barriers broke down and common ground was discovered – a place where kids could learn about where their food comes from and develop a deeper appreciation for the natural world.

Of course, running a community garden wasn’t without its challenges. There were logistics to sort out, relationships to navigate, and the ever-present threat of Mother Nature’s wrath. But through it all, I witnessed the resilience and ingenuity of the human spirit. When the floods came, we regrouped and found a new home. When funding was tight, we got creative, securing grants and finding ways to be self-sustaining.

And the impact on the community was undeniable. I’ll never forget the day a young boy from a nearby low-income housing complex wandered into the garden, eyes wide with wonder. He’d never seen anything like it – rows of vibrant vegetables, buzzing bees, and people working together to coax life from the soil. That moment, and countless others like it, cemented my belief in the power of community-based agriculture to inspire, educate, and bring people together.

The Next Generation of Farmers

As I look back on my time with the LCGP, I’m struck by how much has changed, and yet how much remains the same. The garden is still going strong, tended by a new generation of community members who have taken up the mantle. And the lessons I learned there – about the importance of collaboration, the joy of working the land, and the transformative power of shared experience – continue to shape my work and worldview.

Now, as the manager of a thriving community-supported agriculture (CSA) program, I have the privilege of witnessing firsthand how these ideas can take root and blossom. Every week, as I pack up the boxes of just-harvested produce and watch the faces of our members light up, I’m reminded of that wide-eyed boy in the garden, discovering the magic of food growing from the earth.

But it’s not just the adults who are captivated. The children in our CSA community are equally enthralled, and I make it a point to engage them in the process whenever I can. Whether it’s leading a tour of the fields, hosting a hands-on cooking demo, or inviting them to help with the harvest, I’m always looking for ways to spark their curiosity and inspire them to become the next generation of farmers and food advocates.

Cultivating Connections

One of my favorite activities is a scavenger hunt I lead for the kids, challenging them to explore the farm and discover the hidden stories behind the plants we grow. They’ll search for the heirloom tomato variety named after a local legend, or uncover the ancient history of the Aztec-inspired grain we call quinoa. And in the process, they learn not just about the food itself, but about the people, places, and cultures that have shaped its journey to their plates.

It’s a reminder that every carrot, every head of lettuce, every juicy peach, has a story to tell – a story that connects us to the land, to the farmers who nurture it, and to the communities that have grown up around it. And by sharing those stories, by inviting kids to be active participants in the process of food production, we can inspire a deeper sense of wonder, gratitude, and responsibility.

Because at the end of the day, CSA farming isn’t just about growing food – it’s about growing connections. It’s about forging bonds between producers and consumers, between urban and rural, between young and old. It’s about cultivating a sense of shared purpose and collective stewardship that can ripple outward, transforming not just what we eat, but how we see the world.

Honoring the Past, Shaping the Future

As I reflect on my own family’s history, and the way my grandmother’s image was repurposed to serve agendas she never could have imagined, I’m reminded of the importance of telling our stories, of reclaiming our narratives, and of passing them on to the next generation.

Because it’s not just about the food, or the farming, or even the community. It’s about the deep-rooted connections that bind us to the land, to one another, and to the generations that have come before. It’s about honoring the sacrifices, the struggles, and the small acts of everyday heroism that have paved the way for us to be where we are today.

And it’s about inspiring the next generation to pick up the mantle, to build upon the foundations we’ve laid, and to create a future that is more just, more equitable, and more in harmony with the natural world. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned from my time in the garden, it’s that the true harvest we reap is not just in the bounty of the fields, but in the bonds we forge, the wisdom we share, and the dreams we cultivate together.

So let’s dig in, get our hands dirty, and see what amazing things we can grow. The future is ours to shape, one seed, one story, one child at a time.

About Us

Thornapple CSA: A community-driven initiative championing sustainable agriculture. We connect members with fresh, organic produce, celebrating the bond between land and community.

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