F resh local produce throughout a Tennessee winter? Who figured.... yet there are a few intrepid farmers who, instead of mending fences and planning next season's garden, continue farming during our erratic and unpredictable winter months. Meet farmers Andrew and Reuben Habegger of Eco Gardens CSA. Andrew and his partner/brother Reuben belong to the Old Order Mennonite Community in Scottsville, KY and for the past two years continued to run a CSA straight through the usually barren months of November through April. Which means instead of dealing with hot, humid weather and warm weather pests, the brothers have learned to contend with shorter hours of daylight, freezing days and nights and fluctuating daytime temperatures....there's nothing like something green and fresh in the dead of winter.
This winter CSA abounds with cold hardy field crops kale, spinach, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, turnips and Brussel sprouts, long storage varieties of winter squash such as butternut, acorn, spaghetti, Delicata, garlic, potatoes and canned tomatoes from the previous summer's harvest.
Due to some unusually hard December frosts, Andrew recently lost the last of his field crops, including cauliflower and broccoli. Yet, still standing tall and green are Dr. Seuss-like trees of beautiful Brussel sprouts. There are plenty of storage crops still available and in a few weeks time, he'll begin harvesting kale, spinach, carrots and spring onions from his hoop house.
The scene at the farm is idyllic. Driving up the front drive on a unseasonably warm winter day, the horse and carriage are tied up to a post out front, chickens and turkeys scratch and peck while dogs run free announcing our arrival. Oreo cookie cows graze in a nearby pasture and small wagons filled with greens sit out front of the warehouse and prep room. In a small outbuilding by the side of the house, called the Jam House, is where you'll find in season preserves, sorghum and summer produce to purchase. The house and grounds are neat as a pin. This is the picture postcard imagined in our mind's eye, but alive with the sounds, sights and smells of a working family farm.
Though behind the charming image, the days are long, the work hard and impassioned.
"After my older sister got cancer a few years back, I made the decision to go organic," Andrew says emphatically. "I believed I needed to grow food as healthy and chemical free as I could. Beginning with my Great Grandfather on my father's side (nearly all the men of his Grandfather's generation died of colon cancer), there have been a lot of early deaths from cancer but it was the my oldest sister's passing which had a lot of bearing on my decision to pursue non-toxic natural farming methods. I finally made the decision to go organic when during the last year I farmed conventionally I felt sick every time I sprayed."
"It means a lot to me" continues Andrew, "to believe that I am doing my part to protect the environment and meanwhile produce food that will hopefully improve the well being of the consumer. We believe it is our responsibility to care for God's creation and have come to believe we can best serve our Lord as farmers by growing organically."
The brothers have been farming the family homestead for 26 years. It was purchased in 1982 by their mother after the death of their father (from cancer) when they moved to Scottsville, KY from central Tennessee. The family's farming roots run deep. They can trace Habegger farming heritage to a homestead in Canton Bern, Switzerland, owned and operated by a Habegger since 1540.
In addition to farming organically and year round, the farm is electricity and gasoline free, so all the work is done by hand or with the help of large, draft horses. The farming methods aren't unusual in this Kentucky community, however growing organically is not the norm. Other than one other neighbor in the process of transitioning organic, all the other Mennonite farms are conventional (eg: they use pesticides).
The hoop house used for winter and spring crops is a 35' x 100' foot structure built with their own milled sassafras and oak trees. The sides ingeniously roll up when the weather gets warmer.
The nearby greenhouse is used for growing early tomatoes and starting seeds. The structure is heated with a wood fired boiler which circulates hot water through a piping system to keep the inside uniformly heated. Both the greenhouse and hoop house irrigation systems are done with gravity flow.
Besides the two brothers' homes, the other large structure is Reuben's sorghum operation, called Spring Valley Sorghum Mill. Open in the fall for sorghum season, the complex includes a horse-drawn mill and a cooking/bottling house and a small retail area where in addition to sorghum he sells baked goods, preserves, honey, relishes, pickles, salsa, apple butter, apples, sweet potatoes, fall squash and pie pumpkins, crowder peas and tomatoes..
Because of the success of the CSA program and the need to spend more time on the farm working in the fields and handling their livestocks' rotational grazing program, the brothers have decided to forgo both retail sales as well as their organic certification, even though they plan to follow the organic standards. Since they've built up a solid customer base during the past four years, the additional paperwork seemed an unnecessary use of their time.
Today, there are still four months to go in the winter CSA and plans are already underway for the upcoming 2009 CSA summer season. Depending on the weather, the 28 week season will begin either the end of April or the beginning of May. Andrew is offering an early bird special for sign ups up through January 20. and he does offer a payment plan.
Integral to Eco Gardens CSA success in Nashville are the efforts of Lisa Cochran and her son Joseph. The dedicated CSA members go up each week to collect the produce and then offer their home as a pick up place. For Nashville pick-ups you can either get in touch with Lisa, 615-331-0104, firstname.lastname@example.org or go to The Christ The King drop off location's website, http://www.ctk.org/web-page-news.htm#csa. If you are interested in the Hendersonville drop off, you can get in touch with Regina Gammon, 615-826-0033, email@example.com.