At A Glance
and Moie Crawford
Summary of Operation
• More 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 my childhood.”
That memory inspired the adult Crawford, who, in 1973,
began farming in ignorance but with a lot of enthusiasm
and good connections with other farmers.
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
After Jim and Moie Crawford switched from wholesale to
direct marketing, their profits soared.
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 Cooperative.
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
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 winter.
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 planters.
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 each year.
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
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 Crawford.
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
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 in 1999.
“We have increased our sales by 100 percent in the past 10
years by becoming more intensive and successful in our practices,”
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
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
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.