At A Glance
and Moie Crawford
Summary of Operation
than 40 varieties of organically grown vegetables
on 25 acres
• 200 laying chickens
• Co-founders of a 20-member
organic marketing cooperative
concerns. Former gardeners, Jim
and Moie Crawford sought to grow vegetables both
profitably and in an environmentally sensitive
manner. “We were both interested in gardening,”
says Jim Crawford. Near where he grew up, a farmer
grew produce and sold it in the neighborhood,
“so I developed a desire to do this from
That memory inspired the adult Crawford, who,
in 1973, began farming in ignorance but with a
lot of enthusiasm and good connections with other
Operating at a profit.
Rather than accept wholesale prices,
the Crawfords help found the Tuscarora Organic
Cooperative in 1988. The co-op establishes an
efficient marketing system that helps ensure premium
prices the farmers need for economic success.
The New American Farmer: Profiles of Agricultural
By the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education
© 2003, Beltsville MD. Used by permission.
Pp. 8 to 10
For complete text or to order: www.sare.org/newfarmer
To contact SARE:
Phone (301) 504-6425
Fax (301) 504-5207
Success: After Jim and Moie Crawford switched
from wholesale to direct marketing, their profits
Today, the Crawfords use an
intensive management system incorporating crop rotation, cover
crops and organic soil inputs to operate their 25 acres of
organically grown vegetables near Hustontown, Pa. To keep
pace with the fresh produce market, they grow more than 40
crops of vegetables, with from 180 to 200 plantings each year.
The Crawfords direct market their produce at farmers markets
in Washington, D.C., and through the Tuscarora Organic Growers
Focal Point of Operation—Intensive
Intensive management practices allow the Crawfords to raise
more than 40 vegetable crops on 25 acres, two cold frames
and a greenhouse. “We’re direct seeding crops
in the fields from as early as the end of March, if the weather
permits, all the way into mid-September,” says Crawford.
The only time they are not seeding in the greenhouse is September.
Because their business revolves around the fresh produce market,
the Crawfords strive to extend the season as long as possible
in their cool Pennsylvania climate. They begin harvesting
vegetables by the end of April and are able to sell storage
crops such as winter squash, turnips and potatoes into the
They start early spring and late fall crops under “high
tunnels” — plastic-covered hoop structures measuring
20 by 100 feet. The greenhouse is used mainly to start plants
for field planting, but salad greens also are grown there
to harvest in late winter.
Each season, the Crawfords move 180 to 200 vegetable plantings
from their greenhouses into the ground, often setting out
500 to 2,000 transplants at a time. “To make this work,
there are lots of things happening in any given week,”
Crawford says. This is no understatement.
To accommodate the consumer market demand for a daily supply
of fresh produce, the Crawfords plant beans 15 times and lettuce
25 times. Corn is planted nine times with each crop harvested
for a week’s marketing, extending the corn harvest to
nine weeks from late July to late September. Most vegetables
are planted anywhere from four to 25 times, with a few nonperishable
crops, like winter squash or pumpkins, planted only once.
Plants started in the greenhouse and transplanted into the
field require hand work. “We have owned three transplanters
in our time, but we’ve ended up discarding all of them
because our plots are so small that we are actually better
off transplanting by hand,” says Crawford. “With
only a couple thousand plants at a time and continual adjustments
to the machine for different crops, it isn’t worth the
trouble.” They do save time, however, by using seed
One of their main sources of organic matter is composted manure
from their 200 laying hens, along with manure from local chicken
farms. Crawford also spreads mushroom soil, a fertile byproduct
available by the truckload from southeast Pennsylvania’s
active mushroom industry. The “soil” is actually
the spent remains of composted matter such as hay, leaves,
manure and sawdust that mushroom producers use to cultivate
their product. Crawford leaves a portion of the farm fallow
The Crawfords devised a rotation for crops that require more
fertility, especially nitrogen. For example, they’ll
plant sweet corn in the first year on soil freshly spread
with manure. They follow the next year with tomatoes that
do not require the same high level of nitrogen. The third
year is a crop of beans or peas that produce their own nitrogen.
In the fourth year, Crawford spreads more manure and plants
a crop like squash that requires a fresher source of nitrogen.
They control insects and weeds primarily through their well-managed
rotations supplemented by hand labor and mechanical cultivation.
They also use beneficial insects to control pest populations
and have applied some biological pesticides, such as Rotenone.
The intensive hand labor required is more than the couple
can do themselves. They hire six apprentices from early spring
to late fall who live in a nearby “tenant house,”
which the Crawfords purchased down the road, or with them
on the farm. They employ an additional six to nine hourly
employees, including high school students, during peak times
in the summer months.
Economics and Profitability
Effective marketing of the Crawford’s organic vegetables
became a critical component of their success. “The simple
way to do it was to load everything you had onto a truck and
haul it down to the city to the wholesale market — unload
it and get a few bucks,” Crawford says. “We tried
that.” They also would deliver wholesale products to
retailers and restaurants.
They soon realized those approaches did not bring prices to
justify the time spent managing sales. It also did not appeal
much to buyers, such as chefs, to deal with an individual
farmer when they were used to choosing from a huge line of
offerings from distributors.
“We thought that by forming a cooperative and getting
a group of growers together, we could be more attractive to
the market and operate much more efficiently,” says
The Crawfords were one of five growers to form the organic
cooperative. They now have 20 certified organic members with
a 5,000-square-foot office and warehouse equipped with coolers
and short- and long- term storage facilities. By marketing
the produce wholesale through their cooperative, the farmers
incur a much lower marketing cost per unit.
Crawford describes the operation as a produce wholesaling
distributorship. Growers bring their produce into the warehouse
and co-op staff oversees sales. The co-op usually makes two
deliveries per week to Washington, D.C., using one or two
16-foot trucks. During peak times, they may make three deliveries
in a week.
Co-op staff promotes sales over the telephone and sends out
notices of produce availability. The major customers of the
cooperative are small retailers and restaurants, and a few
institutions. Restaurants buy about 60 percent of the produce.
Co-op sales for the 1999 season totaled almost $700,000, which
represents a steady increase since 1988, Crawford says. Gross
produce sales from their farm alone totaled close to $250,000
“We have increased our sales by 100 percent in the past
10 years by becoming more intensive and successful in our
practices,” Crawford says.
Crawford credits the increasing capacity of the farm not only
to the intensity with which they farm, but also to sustainable
practices he feels has improved the quality of the land. The
Crawfords are able to maintain fertility in their land, even
under intensive use, through crop rotation and incorporating
cover crops, minerals and other organic matter into the soil.
“To be operating in what we think of as a sustainable
way, we’re not depleting soil,” Crawford says.
“We’re building up the resources, which is very
important to us.”
Each year, they test part of their acreage, usually patches
that have generated some problems. They not only look for
the soil’s phosphorus, potassium and organic matter
content, but they also evaluate trace elements like calcium
and sulfur. Crawford is proud of the increased fertility of
the soil, which he says has improved in the past 27 years.
Those improvements can be seen in both improved plant quality
and increased production. “We started with land that
was not particularly fertile,” Crawford recalls. “We
were at a fairly low point, but we’ve seen an enormous
change in the fertility of our land since.”
The Crawfords’ rotational system is more complex than
that of larger, conventional farmers because of their wide
array of crops. “We’re always sure not to plant
any crop in the same ground more often than every three or
four years,” Crawford says.
Community and Quality of Life Benefits
The Crawfords run an organized apprentice program they structured
to benefit employees as well as help with their labor needs.
Not only does an apprentice receive a monthly salary and free
room and board at the tenant house, but he or she will likely
earn an end-of-season bonus. Moreover, all of the apprentices
participate in educational seminars the Crawfords hold about
various aspects of producing and marketing produce.
Working in the Tuscarora Organic Co-op puts the Crawfords
in regular contact with other farmers who share their values.
At about six meetings a year — and in phone conversations
that take place frequently throughout the season — the
group trades information about new techniques, pest control
and the like. “It’s a very important part of co-op,”
Crawford says. “We’re learning all the time.”
Each year, the co-op organizes a production plan that guides
members in what to grow, and how much, to ensure the co-op’s
markets are well-covered. The co-op continues to evolve as
farmers hear about Tuscarora — and its market edge.
“We’re not closed and static,” Crawford
says. “We continue to grow and change.”
Crawford cautions that those wishing to get into a family-sized
vegetable operation may have a difficult time economically.
They should expect to take a lot of risks and put in a lot
of hard work. “We’ve survived because we have
spent the last 27 years trying to develop a model that will
support us,” he says.
On a brighter side, Crawford says a cooperative that markets
your produce can make all the difference. “Marketing
cooperatively is a fantastic improvement,” he says.
“You are part of a much larger system of which there
is a lot more to offer to the buyer. And you’re much
more competitive with the mainstream.”
The Crawfords plan to continue with the vegetable operation
and hope to steadily increase the production on their 25 acres.
They have not increased the acreage they farm for many years,
yet they feel it still has potential for more production.
--Photograph by Tom Gettings/Rodale Inst.