Don Zasada and Bridget Spann own and operate Caretaker Farm in western Massachusetts, where they raise vegetables for 275 CSA families. Caretaker Farm got its start in 1969 when Sam and Elizabeth Smith purchased the land. They started the CSA in 1991, and Don and Bridget came to the farm in 2004, eventually transferring ownership through a land trust and lease arrangement. We dig into Caretaker Farm’s relationship to its members, and how Don and Bridget arrange things so that members do more than just picking up their vegetables, as well as how Don and Bridget have structured their own relationship to the farm and the apprentices to enhance the farm’s sustainability, profitability, and quality of life.
Farmigo: The Farmer to Farmer Podcast is brought to you by Farmigo CSA Management Software, providing the tools you need to manage your CSA business. Farmigo CSA Management Software has a customizable management system to meet your farm’s specific needs.
Quotes from the Show
We’re trying to people away from the life that they had in the office or in the car, and by the time they are out in [the raspberry] field, they are in a different space.
Every adult farm member is required to work at least two hours every season. This helps with labor a bit, but it more allows members to get to know our farm and farming systems. We’re trying to integrate people into this whole organism, not just give them the food.
We could never afford to be farming in Berskshire County if it weren’t for a project like [the one put together with Equity Trust and Williamstown Rural Land Foundation] to make the farm affordable to farmers.
When it’s our turn to retire from farming and sell the farm, we won’t be faced with that heart-breaking decision of how do we retire and preserve the farm – that work has already been done.
Labor is the area that isn’t fun to talk about – it’s a lot of fun to go into the tradeshow and look at all of these things we can buy to improve our farm, but labor is the heart of it for us, and it’s something we constantly try to tweak and improve.
We find that expectations are absolutely crucial from the beginning. And that includes any farm descriptions that are on websites or any publications out there that relate to our farm.
Challenges that we’ve had [with apprentices] are mainly due to us thinking that the apprentices should be doing something and, on the other side, them having no idea that we had that expectation.
When we are really clearly about our expectations ahead of time, then in the moment, in the season, we feel much better about calling people back to those expectations.
Things come up. And we don’t want to let that balloon fill bigger and bigger and bigger with conflict, and then it gets popped at something that has nothing to do with the problem… we are trying to proactively assume that conflict is going to arise, and try to deal with it in a safe environment so that we can talk about what are the real issues and how can we move forward in a way which will enhance our crew and how we work together.
My job in that morning meeting is to constantly frame what we’re going to do, and not just say, “today, we’re going to weed the carrots.”
I try to frame, explain, and then provide some gratitude. I want people to know how appreciative I am for what they are putting into this.
Before moving to Caretaker Farm, Don was the Director of Agriuclture at The Food Project in Boston.
Dan first visited Caretaker Farm as part of the Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training (CRAFT) program. While the original CRAFT group was located in the Hudson Valley / Berkshires / Pioneer Valley, additional programs are now available across the country.
Don and Bridget found the notice about Caretaker Farm in The Natural Farmer, which is a great resource.
The ownership structure for Caretaker Farm was developed with the assistance of Equity Trust. The land is owned by Williamstown Rural Land Foundation.
Equity Trust has developed a model lease for similar ownership arrangements.
A complete description of apprentice program is available on the Caretaker Farm website.
The proactive conflict resolution process that Caretaker Farm uses is based on a system described in Greg Gale’s Growing Together.
Don recommended The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson about how the small things add up over time.