Why we farm
It’s simple: we love to grow good food, and we love to share it: with our members and with the greater community at the Phoenixville Farmers’ Market.
Three generations of the Andersen Family purchased the land for Charlestown Farm in 2000 in order to keep our beautiful valley from being developed. We also knew that we didn't want to just look at it, but that we also wanted to put it to good use for ourselve and for our local community.
We started the CSA in 2003 with just a few founding members, and it quickly grew into a gathering place for like-minded people to support a local farm and eat local food. Plus, by selling at the Phoenixville Farmers' Market, we could reach even more local food lovers, and have an even bigger impact.
Today, we've grown to about 150 members, and sell at the market year-round. We hope the farm has grown into something more than just a place to get vegetables once a week, but rather a part of our members' health, well-being and happiness.
How we farm
We're not officially certified organic, but there's not a bad chemical anywhere on the farm.
So here's what we do to grow such delicious vegetables.
Rich, healthy soils produce rich, healthy vegetables
So we do everything possible to start with healthy soil:
Different crops use different nutrients, so we rotate them across plots.
We also rest the soil, planting "cover crops" which add back important nutrients, and then plough them back into the soil as a sort of "green manure."
Here's an example: we plant a legume called hairy vetch which pulls nitrogen out of the air and returns it to the ground, where future crops can use it.
Rather than killing pests, we outwit them:
We fool insects by planting different crops in different places every year
We cover crops with spun polyester to keep flying insects out but let sunlight in
For crops which are pollinated by bees and can't be covered, we spray natural clay which irritates them
A perimeter fence keeps deer out of our fields.
Weed out the weeds
Weeds are just other plants, but they are also competition: for nutrients as well as for sunlight, so we keep them at bay.
We cultivate with tractors that act like big hoes to cut weeds between rows.
We use hand hoes and hand weed for more delicate crops
We use plastic mulch and straw mulch, especially for heat-loving and vining plants
There's one thing we can't control: the weather.
So in any given year, some crops will thrive and others will fail. It's why we plant so many different ones, but inevitably there will be a year with very few onions, or one with tons of peppers, all lessons in the realities of agriculture.
What we grow
We want to grow the most delicious produce possible, which starts with careful farming practices, but also involves selection.
We've discovered many of the best varieties to grow in our climate and on our soils, and we're always on the lookout for a sweeter strawberry, crunchier radish, earthier potato or more flavorful tomato.
And in the winter . . .
Our CSA season ends before Thanksgiving, but we never stop growing!
We grow cold-loving vegetables like kale, collards, radishes, and scallions in the our two plastic-covered greenhouses called hoophouses, and offer them for sale to our members and at the Phoenixville Farmers' Market.
We also use the colder months to learn. We'll attend conferences held by organizations like PASA (Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture) and NOFA-NJ (Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey). We'll comb seed catalogues, read blogs and read books.
There's a lot to plan, too. We sketch out a field plan every year to ensure we're respecting the soil and rotating crops. We set out a schedule for when to plant what, and how much we'll need. It's this preparation that ensures we can spend warmer months where we like to, outside in the fields.
By February, we'll start to plant seeds in the greenhouse, and as soon as the ground thaws, we'll be ready to start again.