At A Glance
Peacework Organic Farm
Newark, New York
Summary of Operation
• 70 crops (vegetables,
herbs, flowers, melons and small fruit) raised organically
on 15 acres
• Community supported agriculture
(CSA) farm with 270 member families.
Need for a New Farm® location.
In 1998, nearly 20 years after leaving a university
professorship to farm, Elizabeth Henderson had to begin
anew. For years, Henderson had farmed as a partner at
Rose Valley Farm, a diversified, organic operation.
Then the personal and professional partnership under
which Henderson had been farming at Rose Valley Farm
The New American Farmer: Profiles of Agricultural
By the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education
© 2003, Beltsville MD. Used by permission. Pp.
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age 36, Henderson retired from the university and started to farm.
“I had been making my living by teaching at a university,”
Henderson recalls. “Instead, I wanted to live in a way that
was in concert with my beliefs about the environment and community.”
Henderson spent about eight years in a homesteading-like arrangement
at Unadilla Farm in Gill, Mass., a period she describes as an apprenticeship
in learning how to grow vegetables. She and her partner grew a range
of garden crops on about four acres of raised beds, keeping many
for their own use but also marketing to restaurants, food co-ops,
farmers markets and directly to neighbors.
In 1989, Rose Valley and a Rochester-based nonprofit, Politics of
Food, formed the Genesee Valley Organic CSA. They started with 29
shares, and, over a decade, expanded to 160 shares. At that time,
Henderson’s partnership ended. The CSA enterprise remained
committed to Henderson. This time, she brought her market —
indeed, a whole community — to her new location.
People often describe CSA in economic terms — members pay
a set amount in advance for a weekly share of the harvest during
the growing season, many of them working on the farm in various
ways. But Henderson places equally high value on the relationships
CSA fosters between farmers and the people who eat the food they
produce. She also puts a premium on the connections CSA forges among
the farmer, the community and the land. Thus her life running a
CSA farm supports her values, among them: cooperation, justice,
appreciation of beauty, reverence for life and humility about the
“place of human beings in the scheme of nature.”
“For me, farming for a community of people whom I know well
is very satisfying,” she says. “It’s not like
shipping crates off somewhere, where I never see the customers.
I know everyone, and I know most of their children.”
The CSA community pulled together to help Henderson and her new
partner, Greg Palmer, create a working farm that reflects their
vision. During the 1998 growing season, the CSA purchased vegetables
from four other organic farms in the greater Rochester area, while
members helped transform 15 acres of sod into vegetable beds, built
a new greenhouse and cold frame, and renovated an old barn and packing
shed. Members contributed what they knew best, from architects helping
design the greenhouse to an electrician laying wiring.
Peacework Farm rents 15 acres from Crowfield Farm, a 600-acre bison
and hay operation that has been chemical-free since 1983, allowing
Peacework to get organic certification immediately. They also were
able to rent a barn and packing shed, that, with work, were made
appropriate for vegetable production.
Moreover, Crowfield owners Doug and Becky Kraai have a long history
of environmental stewardship. In partnership with the U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service, they had planted trees and built ponds to
enhance wildlife habitat. All in all, Henderson says, “it
seemed a very friendly place to farm.”
Focal Point of Operation —
Community Supported Agriculture
Peacework Farm grows about 70 crops, including a wide variety of
vegetables, herbs, flowers, melons and small fruit, all according
to certified organic practices. About 95 percent of the harvest
goes to the CSA enterprise.
Since Henderson and Palmer were converting hayfields on light, loamy
soil into vegetable cultivation, they decided to make permanent
beds, leaving strips of sod between the beds for the tractors to
drive on. The tractor wheels are five feet apart and all the beds
are five feet wide.
Palmer and Henderson share responsibility for overall planning and
management, but each has his or her own primary responsibilities.
Palmer handles the non-CSA markets, keeps the books and maintains
the equipment. Henderson tills and cultivates, does most of the
greenhouse planting work, and since she lives at the farm, tends
to pick up most of the loose ends. On mornings when members come
to the farm to fulfill their work requirements, both farmers work
with them. These responsibilities will shift somewhat when Palmer’s
wife, Ammie Chickering, joins the team in 2001.
One of the most distinguishing characteristics of their CSA enterprise
is the active, meaningful involvement of its members. “I think
farmers ask much too little of the people who buy their food,”
Henderson says. “They don’t ask them to pay enough or
to contribute in other ways.”
Not all CSA farms have a work requirement, but it’s a cornerstone
of Genesee Valley’s success. During a season, members work
three four-hour shifts at the farm and two 2.5-hour shifts in distribution.
Because the farm is about an hour’s drive from Rochester,
where most members live, members work to both harvest crops and
“It’s really important to learn how to design volunteer
work so that people can give what they really want to give,”
Organization and advance planning are key. From a season-long work
schedule, to detailed instructions about what to wear and bring,
to directions for harvesting vegetables, Henderson makes sure shareholders
are prepared to be successful contributors to the farm.
“Members consider the farm work a benefit,” Henderson
says. “Their end-of-season evaluations are unanimously positive
about only two things: the quality of the food and the farm work.”
The CSA farm’s core group handles another set of crucial tasks:
accounting, distribution, scheduling, outreach, newsletter production
and new member recruitment.
Economics and Profitability
Henderson and Palmer have structured Peacework Farm so its revenue
covers all farm expenses including labor without incurring debt.
Henderson is pleased that they never borrow money, either.
The farmers designed the size of the CSA operation to generate enough
income for Henderson, Palmer and Chickering to live in a manner
Henderson describes as leaving a “small ecological footprint.”
Not only do they easily cover farm expenses, but they have health
insurance and are starting a pension fund.
“We negotiate our budget each year with the CSA core group,
which is very committed to paying us a living wage,” she says.
Three years ago, Henderson put $35,000 into the farm and has since
received $42,000 back. “That is a decent return on my investment,”
The CSA enterprise has 164 full shares and 67 partial shares, but
because two or three families sometimes split a share, about 270
families are members. Developing the CSA farm budget is a process
of balancing the numbers with philosophy. On one hand, the CSA membership
is committed to providing the farmers with a just wage. On the other
hand, the core group and the farmers want to make sure the CSA farm
is accessible to people of all income levels. To make this possible,
they offer a sliding scale for membership fees.
Peacework’s rotations feature summer and winter cover crops,
depending, of course, on the timing and crop Henderson intends to
plant the following year. The rotations and cover crops are designed
to prevent erosion, maintain and build soil quality and control
pest pressures. If they plan an early-spring planting, they plant
a cover crop of oats. With crops planted later, they underseed with
rye or a rye/vetch mix.
After harvesting a spring crop, Henderson and Palmer typically plant
a buckwheat cover crop, incorporate that and then sow an oat cover
crop for the winter. Henderson favors rye and vetch before brassicas.
“I find it’s all the fertilizer those crops need. We
mow the cover crop in June, spade the bed, and let it set for three
weeks and then spade again. It makes a beautiful seed bed.”
Since they have an ample supply of large round bales of hay, Henderson
and Palmer also use them as mulch — simply unrolling them
over a bed — to get beds read for early use in the spring.
This approach is particularly effective with garlic and onion sets.
Community and Quality of Life Benefits
Henderson has been an energetic — some might say aggressive
— advocate for organic farming and CSA for almost two decades,
and a second profile could be entirely devoted to her efforts to
promote local, sustainable food systems. Through her books —
she co-authored The Real Dirt and Sharing the Harvest — conference
appearances, and grassroots organizing and advocacy, she has influenced
scores of farmers, other agricultural professionals and policy makers
at the local, state and national level.
Henderson’s CSA farm is open to all, regardless of income.
In the 2000 growing season, shares ranged from $11 a week to $17
per week, depending on a member’s ability to pay. “The
people who are paying $17 know they are balancing out the people
who are paying $11,” Henderson says.
The CSA sponsors a scholarship fund that helps further reduce share
prices to assist lower income people. The fund is supported in part
from sales of “A Foodbook for a Sustainable Harvest,”
a guide to the foods CSA members receive, including storage information
and recipes. A Rochester church also has made generous contributions
to the fund.
Finally, Henderson’s CSA work has demonstrated to the larger
farming community that a small-scale, organic farm — with
cooperation and support from its neighbors — can succeed.
“I want my farm to serve as a demonstration to my farming
neighbors, many of them very conservative people, that ecological
farming is a practical possibility,” Henderson wrote in Sharing
the Harvest. “The conventional farmers I know consider my
organic CSA to be a sort of special case, but at the same time,
they recognize it as a creative approach to marketing and admire
my ability to get the cooperation of consumers. That is a great
advance over how it was viewed 10 years ago.”
Henderson observes that a surprising number of farmers find themselves
facing sudden changes to their farming situations.
“The training I’ve had in holistic resource management
and having a three-part goal — personal and spiritual, environmental,
and economic — was very helpful,” she says. “Because
I had already done so much work on my goals, when I had to move,
it guided me in the choices I had to make.”
Henderson and Palmer hope to find a young person to join them and
become the junior partner so Henderson can cut back her time farming
to do more writing. “I’m 57, and this is pretty aerobic,”
she says. “I want to cut back, but I want to be sure the farm