Cows graze one pasture and then another, pigs work new fields, mobile henhouses are moved daily, and children and adults come and go from the café. At Temple-Wilton Community Farm in Wilton, N.H., there is a sense of motion, of purposeful activity, of people and animals working together.
Established as a community garden in the early 1980s, Temple-Wilton is one of the first two CSAs begun in the U.S. It remains a farm of and for its community. Its members provide support as they are able and take what they need and can reasonably use.
How it works
Do people really contribute what they can? Do they really take only what they need? The answer is an unqualified yes, says Andrew Kennedy, farm manager. “We’re not a ‘we and them’ situation. It’s all ‘us,'” he adds.
Unlike most CSAs, where members pay a fixed price for a share of the harvest, Temple-Wilton’s shareholders pay a portion of the farm’s total budget in exchange for whatever they need. The farmers set an annual budget, which is then divided among the total number of CSA shareholders – currently 110 shares for two, four or six people – and a per-share amount is suggested. In 2013, shareholders pledged to pay $115 a month from June 1 through the following May. Some shareholders contribute that amount, some a bit less. Other shareholders, as they are able, contribute more. The number of shareholders is limited by the amount of produce the farm can grow, and people become members by joining a waiting list, which is now up to 30 people.
While most CSAs are mainly seasonal vegetable operations, Temple-Wilton is also a dairy farm that operates year-round. Farm shares include raw milk, recently limited to 4 gallons per shareholder per week, as well as vegetables in season and storage vegetables in winter. Farm-made yogurt, cheese, excess raw milk, eggs and meat are available for purchase, generally at market prices. Eggs are discounted 50 to 75 cents from the nonmember price of $4.50 a dozen.
Produce bins are stocked on Tuesdays and Saturdays, and shareholders are welcome to pick up any time between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., seven days a week. Bins of produce available in limited amounts are marked with a sign such as “Please take three heads a week,” while abundant produce will be marked, “Please take for processing.”
Trauger Groh brought the CSA idea from Germany and started Temple-Wilton in 1986 with Anthony Graham and Lincoln Geiger. Graham and Geiger continue to farm the land, along with Andrew Kennedy and three or four interns. They operate the farm according to the biodynamic farming principles of Rudolf Steiner, who believed that land should be held in common by a community, that a network of people and relationships should replace the traditional system of employers and employees, and that the economy should be based not on increasing profit, but on the actual needs of the people and land involved.
Like other organic approaches to agriculture, biodynamic farming, which is practiced at Temple-Wilton, emphasizes the use of manures and composts and excludes the use of artificial chemicals on soil and plants. Biodynamic agriculture treats animals, crops and soil as a single system. Herbs and minerals are added to compost and field sprays, and the biodynamic planting calendar guides planting dates. The farm is not formally certified as either organic or biodynamic. “Our customers are our inspectors,” says Kennedy. Milk is state-inspected, and the farm is a state-licensed producer and distributor of raw milk and milk products.
Animals move from field to field in regular succession. Pigs, introduced by Kennedy when he arrived at the farm in April 2012, come first to clear the land or rejuvenate older fields. After pigs, the fields are usually planted with a cover/forage crop. Next come the calves, trimming the grass to 4 or 5 inches, an ideal height for the chickens that follow. Chickens forage for insects and fertilize the land. Following the intensive work of laying hens, a field is left to regrow before sheep (which will be added this year) graze. After sheep come meat chickens, which again forage and fertilize, depositing nitrogen in easily assimilated amounts before the field is again grazed by cows. In the future, Kennedy would like to add ducks and rabbits to the system. “I love pasture management and grazing,” says Kennedy. “I love taking something not so good and improving it.”
Valued for their work, all animals at Temple-Wilton must also be gentle. Café patrons often visit animals in the fields, as do young children who walk a trail from Pine Hill School to the farm. Cows are grazed at nearby High Mowing School, a Waldorf high school. Bulls have not been kept on the farm since 2012, when Geiger was gored by a 3-year-old bull. Dairy cow breeding is currently by artificial insemination, although some bulls will be used again starting this summer.
Pigs at work
Hardy and good foragers, Tamworth, Yorkshire and Berkshire cross pigs revitalize the land and provide cash flow for the farm. Pigs and cattle graze on field peas, oats and Summer Feast (a mix of forage brassica and millet). Sows breed in November, and feeder piglets are born in March. Each sow has her own tent-shaped hut, a portable structure that can easily be moved with a pallet fork. “Pigs are super-easy to fence,” says Kennedy. He uses two strands of IntelliTwine and lots of grounding rods.
Red Star hens are lightweight (averaging 4.5 pounds) and efficient layers. When kept under artificial light, they will continue laying throughout the winter. At Temple-Wilton, the flock of 260 produces about 115 dozen eggs per week. Two converted hay wagons serve as their shelter and are moved twice a week. Electrified poultry netting is also moved to contain layers within a 75-by-75-foot area.
Chickens on the move
The farm’s most-in-motion award for rotational grazing goes to the 900 meat chickens. The Freedom Ranger-type chickens, originally La Belle Rouge, are divided among eight 10-by-12-foot pens and are moved every morning to give them a new area in which to forage and deposit their manure. Arriving at the farm in batches of 200, these low-mortality (less than 3 percent), slow-growing chickens take nine weeks to finish, a little longer than the usual seven or eight weeks.
Pens for the meat chickens are a curved design made of 16-foot cattle panels stapled to a 10-foot wooden frame. The frame is constructed of 2x4s, and covering the top of the pens is a white tarp that’s strapped down with cable ties. The pens do not blow over in the wind, but instead are pushed toward the ground. Tall enough to work in but easily moved with a pen dolly, the enclosures cost about $160 to build. Building price includes a $25 tarp and a $50 hanging waterer. An electrified poultry fence surrounding the pens deters predators.
Now primarily Ayrshire-Jersey mixes, the farm herd is transitioning to two and three-way Normandy crosses. Kennedy likes the Ayrshire temperament, production and consistency, and the Jersey’s early maturation. He has begun using Normandy sires because they are bred for production on grass. In summer 2013, the herd needed only about 2 pounds of grain per cow per day. Of the 20 to 25 dairy cows, 10 to 15 are milking. “Good production from 11 to 14 cows gives enough production for fluid milk, yogurt and cheese,” notes Kennedy.
All the farm’s cows have names and are regarded as individuals. They “self-select” for culling. Cows retained for breeding and milking are selected for their good production on grass and hay, and for their good health and lack of mastitis.
More options for animals and people
In the next couple of years, Kennedy anticipates adding more grazing animals to the farm’s mix. First will come weaned lambs, the beginnings of a ewe flock to produce market lambs. They will be hair sheep, so shearing will not be necessary.
Next will come ducks for eggs and meat, as well as meat rabbits. “Both will fit well into the existing system,” says Kennedy.
A new 16-by-16-foot structure is being built adjacent to the dairy. One-third cheese cave, one-third dairy cooler, and one-third walk-in freezer, it will accommodate a growing cheesemaking enterprise, as well as allow for more meat and dairy sales.
Housed in the former farmhouse, the Hilltop Café is the hub of the Temple-Wilton community. It serves breakfast and lunch made with fresh, local, organic ingredients. The café also hosts Saturday night music and Sunday brunch. The adjacent outdoor stage is being expanded to accommodate the members and guests who attend weekly Saturday night events from June to September.
As the pioneer CSA evolves, members are exploring some changes in governance. Now in its 28th year, Temple-Wilton was not originally organized to work without founders Geiger and Graham. However, the farm has begun reorganizing as a member-driven cooperative and has added a farm manager (Kennedy). The farm will continue to have a board of directors. Members can stay informed of farm activities by visiting the farm’s website, http://templewiltoncommunityfarm.com.
Four Main Types of CSAs
- Farmer-managed: Set up and maintained by a farmer who recruits subscribers and manages the CSA.
- Shareholder/subscriber: Local residents set up a CSA and hire a farmer. Shareholders/subscribers control management.
- Farmer cooperative: Multiple farmers set up a CSA program.
- Farmer-shareholder cooperative: The CSA is set up and cooperatively managed by farmers and local residents. Temple-Wilton Community Farm is a farmer-shareholder cooperative.