NEW FARMER JOURNAL: Fresh Harvest Farm, Mokena IL

That which sustains us
With CSA shares sold out, an inspiring and inspired intern, and lists and tasks well in order, one small farm in the Chicago suburbs is ready for summer.

By Patty McPhillips
Posted June 2, 2005

Jean Phelan and Patty McPhillips


Fresh Harvest Farm
Mokena, Illinois

Farmers: Patty McPhillips and Jeanne Phelan

First season: 2004

What they raise: Mixed vegetables, herbs

Location: South Chicago suburb

Marketing strategies: farmers’ market, farm stand, considering a CSA

May, 2005. We did it. All CSA shares in the farm have been sold! Our goal was 50; our planting plans were based on 52 (using Market Farm Forms); and we accepted 46 shares to give ourselves a little production cushion and hopefully contribute to a successful season. We received some great press from a small local paper – a cover story with a huge picture of Jean in great form starting up the rototiller. We had well over 75 calls from that article, and since it is my cell phone that acts as the farm phone I had my hands full talking to people, e-mailing information, and trying to keep track of all the names and addresses for future communication.

We held our first “members meeting” and it was well-attended. It was great to meet the folks who are making the dream possible. We went over pickup procedures and announced that half-share holders would pick up a full share portion every other week rather than trying to compose a share box with half the amount of produce in it each week. A few members were less than thrilled, but all in all I think they understood. A few folks signed up to be a part of our Weed Warrior volunteers, and I now realize that organizing their enthusiasm will require more work on my part – a double-edged sword.

We have an intern. Her name is Julie Weathers and she works with us two days a week. Julie is a theology student on sabbatical from studies who describes herself as having twin desires in life – an intense interest in the study of faith, hope and God; and agriculture. What a difference an extra set of hands can make. She is a pleasure to be around and a welcome addition to the operation.

Our ½ acre Mokena field is looking great. We are miles ahead of where we were last year at this time. We are fairly close to being on schedule with planting although it has been quite cold and dry, so germination is lagging behind. The transplanted brassicas are doing wonderful safely tucked under their row covers while cabbage moths circle above. All my winter planning is really paying off. The planting schedule acts as the basis for our weekly tasks lists, and what a difference in productivity those task lists make. We can start the day knowing exactly what has to be accomplished without wandering around looking at the beds trying to figure out what has to be done and in what order. I had also planned to bring a laptop computer to the field, but that has not worked out. It is too heavy to lug around; of course there is no power out there so it can’t be left running for quick-and-easy access to information, and you can’t read the screen in the sunlight. Oh well, it seemed like a good idea and would be nice to have the information at my fingertips, but is not working for now.

Our 2-acre Frankfort field is carved out of one end of a 35-acre oat/hay field. The oats in our spot were turned under by the resident farmer last week. Boy that field looks big! Our next step is to lay out the 132 beds and start planting. At the same time, we are desperately trying to figure out a way to irrigate that field without investing too much since we have no assurance as to how long we will be able to grow there. The drip irrigation system in Mokena cost us about $2,000 and is of no use at the Frankfort spot. If we could keep our investment to $1,000, I would be satisfied.

Neither one of our landowners wanted to have 50 families converging on their property once a week to pick up produce, so we have moved the pickup locations to our homes. 90 percent of the members will be coming to my house on Thursday afternoons. Hmmm…I wonder what the village is going to think about that activity? I am on the hunt for refrigeration since harvesting should begin in a month and will be installing that in my garage. Also working on setting up a washing/packing station in the backyard (my husband is a saint). I better get moving.