If it weren't for the help of
the following groups, Pennypack Farm may have never
been--at least it would have taken a lot longer for
it to happen.
to City, run by Bob Pierson,
connects farmers to markets in the Philadelphia area.
The program brings fresh, locally-grown food to urban
residents and opens up direct markets for rural farmers
while increasing food and farming awareness. For more
information about Farm to City e-mail Bob Pierson or:
Farm To City
318 Gaskill Street
Philadelphia, PA 19147
White Dog Enterprises,
Inc., was founded by Judy Wicks,
and owns and operates the White Dog Cafe. The Cafe purchases
locally-grown, organic produce in-season; humanely-raised
meat and poultry; and seafood raised in sustainable
fisheries. The Cafe has a reputation for social, political
and environmental activism, leading campaigns to ban
the sale of endangered fish and the use of GMO products.
The White Dog Cafe Foundation also sponsors the Philadelphia
Fair Food Project, which fosters direct farmer-to-chef
and farmer-to-consumer relationships.
White Dog Café Foundation
3420 Sansom St.
Philadelphia, PA 19104
Maysie's Farm Conservation
Center is "a nonprofit educational
organization dedicated to increasing public understanding
of the importance of conservation and ecological thinking."
Maysie's Farm has combined the traditional CSA with
an educational spin, offering kids' programs and teacher-training
sessions focused on food, farming, the environment and
Maysie's Farm Conservation Center
15 St Andrew's Lane
Glenmoore, PA 19343
Natural Lands Trust
is a nonprofit regional land trust working to protect
the area's natural and cultural resources. The group
focuses on acquisition, conservation easement, planning
and education. They have helped conserve more than 100,000
acres of natural areas and own and manage 45 preserves.
Natural Lands Trust
1031 Palmers Mill Road
Media, PA 19063
Alliance for a Sustainable
Future is a non-profit awareness-raising
organization. They offer support and/or collaboration
to other organizations with projects promoting sustainability;
build regional support for national policies advocating
sustainability; and working with other groups to form
a local sustainability plan. Visit their website at:
Thinking about starting a CSA?
Check out our 16 recommended resources for insight and
straight talk on cultivating, managing and marketing
with a community approach.
6, 2003: There are several models of Community Supported
Agriculture (CSA) farming. The most common model begins with a farmer
who wants to stay in business but needs a more reliable market.
The least common begins with a community who wants to have a CSA
and who goes looking for a farmer to produce according to their
standards. Our Pennypack Farm Education Center for Sustainable Food
Systems, the latter type, is the newest organic farm in Pennsylvania.
Our story of how suburban people, land, a farmer and the legal financial
structure came together is a cautionary tale with a happy ending.
The people came first. Back in 1999 we were connected and inspired
by two discussion group courses from the Northwest Earth Institute,
namely Voluntary Simplicity and Choices for Sustainable Living.
We agreed it would be great to have an organic farm nearby and four
of us decided to go for it. To draw in more partners, we wrote a
letter to the editor of the area newspaper about starting a CSA
farm and how to contact us. About a dozen people called and nearly
two dozen attended the first meeting to explore interests, resources
and tasks. We decided to continue meeting monthly and the "Ambler
CSA" was born.
Our goals and values
To foster sustainable agriculture, to protect
our watershed and establish local food security.
We wanted to solidify the local community of like-minded sustainability
advocates and we wanted to increase the quantity of locally grown
organic crops for human tables. The sponsoring organization, the
Alliance for a Sustainable Future (see sidebar), wanted to have
the new farm serve as a center for building a foodshed alliance
in eastern Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. We envisioned the CSA
becoming an educational center several years after we got the farm
operations working fairly routinely. (We didn't want to burden the
farm manager with educational duties during the start-up years.)
Our first plan of action was to research, then contact all the
farmers within a five-mile radius. We naively believed that one
of them would switch to organic methods on a mere four or five of
their acres. Knowing they would have a ready-made market of committed
buyers, how could they lose? We were disappointed, but not daunted
by the dismal response: "Why switch methods that have been
doing fine as long as I have been farming?" Every reasonable
answer we supplied was countered by fixated thinking.
Fortunately, Bob Pierson's Farm-to-City subscription CSA project
(see sidebar) was available as an interim source of organic food
for our members and a way our members could build good CSA habits--picking-up
and cooking seasonal vegetables. The Farm-to-City food provided
a necessary tangible result to keep us clear about our goals and
motivated while investigating and revising our own group's possibilities.
A year went by with no luck finding a farmer, but we became more
articulate about our values. We had speakers from nearby CSA farms--Sam
Cantrell from Maysie's, Amy Johnson from Red Hill Farm and Michael
Thomas, an adjunct professor from Temple Ambler University. And
we gathered budget information at conferences.
It was then that Plan B emerged. We talked with interns working
at other CSAs about our search for a grower and found many willing
to hear us out if we could find some land. We compiled
a list of known properties and parceled out the contacts to each
member, following every lead, encouraging each other and asking
for referrals whenever we struck out. Three nearby townships owned
open space that we reasoned would be ideal community commons for
a CSA. The legal insurance requirements and the lengthy approval
process blew us away. A nearby college campus, private schools,
church properties--every lead rejected our proposal. We gained new
allies at the "Keep Montgomery County Farming" conference
in 2001. The Natural Lands Trust (see sidebar) recommended two properties
The most promising lead was a farmer who said he had always wanted
to start a CSA ever since an intern had used his farm to make very
rich biodynamic compost for a school project. He saw how well the
tomatoes flourished in that dark composted soil. Things looked hopeful
over several meetings, but there was a dicey way he answered a few
of our questions. When, at last, we pressed for a direct answer
about what he would do if insects infested the crops, he said he
would "of course apply a pesticide as an emergency measure."
We abandoned further negotiations.
The second lead from the Natural Lands Trust turned out to be our
winning hand, although it took two years to develop a partnership
with this cautious non-profit camp for inner city children. We were
better able to balance the CSA and educational missions we envisioned
through the relationship.
Developing a mutually agreeable lease for 24 acres of land was
more than a year-long process. We had to change our name from Ambler
CSA to a name that was more harmonious with the locality of the
camp land. And so we became Pennypack Farm to honor the land's placement
at the headwaters to the Pennypack watershed. Then we dealt with
insurance details, length of lease (we wanted a three-year annually
renewable lease), conditions of building construction (escrow account
for removal costs at termination of lease), aesthetics of the deer
fence (the camp has 24 deer in their 263 acres), cooperation with
the camp's educational programming and assurances that we had no
expectations of any financial.
Twice, while following Plan B, we interviewed and chose potential
growers in hopes of starting in the upcoming growing season. We
had to let both go when the land lease didn't happen in time. Late
last year, through friends, we learned of Lisa Mosca, a farmer in
a Santa Cruz program. She had gone to school at Swarthmore, a nearby
Quaker college, and thought she might like to manage a farm close
to Philadelphia. Her extensive experience, glowing references and
indefatigable optimism indicated she was our gal. She took a firm
stand on the CSA providing a living wage and benefits for herself
and her laborers from the start and we added these values to our
list of commitments.
Making education our core principle
Now we had the community, 24 acres of land and the farmer, but,
alas, no equipment. A deer fence, tractor with attachments, two
wells, a shed, greenhouse, hoop houses, tools, electricity and a
gravel driveway were needed. Whew! Could we raise theses capital
expenses through gifts? Was there a way to get grants? Becoming
a non-profit educational facility was the way to go.
Farm Education Center for Sustainable Food Systems
Lisa Mosca, Farm Manager
Pennypack Farm Education Center
685 Mann Road
Horsham, PA 19044
The children's program is a collaborative effort with
College Settlement Camp to expose economically needy
children from the Philadelphia area to organic farming
and nature at an early age. Pennypack Farm provides
farm-based curricular activities, a children's demonstration
garden, child-centered farm tours and food-tastings
during the growing season. Students learn "where
their food comes from" and how their lifestyle
decisions affect the environment and their bodies.
Series of presentations on local and global issues to
increase public understanding of the health, economic,
ecological and social issues involved in local sustainable
food systems. Experts on organic farming practices lead
discussions and lectures are open to the public.
Series of hands-on training that advance local food
self-reliance, food sustainability and nutrition. Workshop
topics include seasonal cooking, fruit-tree planting,
seed saving and canning.
Staff members with biology, ecological horticulture
and perennial planting lead community volunteers in
planting beneficial native insect and wildlife borders
and hedgerows. Plantings and carpentry projects include
signage for public education.
Our Food Comes From
Teacher training program lead by a state certified teacher
designed to guage interest in a local food policy council.
A Farm-to-School initiative linking sustainable agriculture,
nutrition education and healthy food in school cafeterias.
Luckily, our landlord wanted education for their inner city campers
and, amazingly, Lisa was particularly interested in and suitable
for providing education along with growing food. When we learned
what it takes to form a tax-exempt non-profit organization, we decided
to speed up our timeline and incorporate the educational component
right from the start. The happy result is the Pennypack Farm Education
Center for Sustainable Food Systems.
Despite having an educational mission, the legal issues we faced
were more complicated. The IRS will not issue non-profit status
to a membership organization, which is the typical CSA structure.
The IRS considers a membership organization as privately benefiting
the members, not the public, and, therefore, ineligible for tax-deductible
donations. The IRS is also reluctant to award non-profit status
to a venture that could give an unfair advantage to one agricultural
program over commercial farms. We learned our flow-through fiscal
sponsor could lose their non-profit status and any foundations would
have to pay fines if they donated to a membership organization.
The challenges were great, but not insurmountable. Maysie's Farm
(see sidebar) is one of the only two known non-profit CSA operations
in Pennsylvania and they were willing to help us out. Sam Cantrell,
owner of Maysie's, generously shared his application for 501(c)3
status with us so we could understand the language and rationale
that was acceptable. We replaced our community steering committee
with a Board of Directors and emphasized education and charitable
giving in our purpose. We also consulted with two legal professionals
about our by-laws, articles of incorporation and the application.
Atypically, our non-profit application was approved in less than
Where we are and where we're going
In April we built propagation tables and raised the frame for
the green house. Pennypack Farm is truly a community project. We
will have to buy transplants this first year since the ground was
too frozen to build hoop houses. By early April, we had sold 80
of our 100 shares for the first year and started a waiting list
for next year. We have raised over $30,000 in gifts, mostly from
individual donors and still have $60,000 to go. We're also working
on funding for 25 low-income shares. Judy Wicks of the White Dog
Café (see sidebar) connected us to a lender who might be
able to provide a socially responsible investment low-interest loan
for five years.
I am sure our challenges are not over, but I think we are going
to make it.