Roy and Hope Brubaker and family
Acres is located in the Allegheny hills of Mifflintown,
Pennsylvania about 45 minutes southeast or Harrisburg
Size: 30 acres
Products: 70 varieties
of produce including: asparagus, blueberries,
cantaloupes, green beans, raspberries, rhubarb,
squash, strawberries, tomatoes, potatoes, and
Wholesale Organic co-op (TOG) and 104 member CSA
Meet the 2003 Interns
On the Brubaker's farm the yearly crop of interns
that arrives each summer has became just as important
to the operation as what shows up in the fields.
Above: Chris Below: Katie
The internship program began in 1991 with a son
and two college friends looking for summer employment.
This summer the internship program took on its
largest group to date bringing on six interns.
Interns help with all aspects of the farm from
planting to packing CSA boxes. In return for their
labors interns get food, lodging, and education,
a small monthly stipend, a share of the profit
and a summer outdoors. Below: Neil
On a warm July morning on
Village Acres Farm (www.goshen.edu/~debrajb/villageacres/villageacreshome),
four recent college-graduates were wading through a field
of peas and oats with plastic buckets. Originally these plants
were meant to serve only as a cover crop, enriching the soil
with nitrogen and biomass. But a particularly wet spring left
those at the farm looking for extra work and income. On a
whim, they decided to try marketing the shoots of these pea
plants to upscale D.C. restaurants as “organic salad
“The restaurants keep asking for more,” said
Matt Lowen, one of the four interns in the field. He shrugged
and smiled as he snapped off the top of a pea plant and tossed
it in his bucket. “So we keep picking.”
You can almost taste the resourcefulness and creative problem
solving here at Village Acres, nestled among the green Allegheny
hills of Mifflintown, Pennsylvania. Roy Brubaker, the owner
and manager of the farm, is the one behind many of these ideas.
But he’s not alone. This year there are 11 people helping
with the farm, including the Brubaker family and six interns.
Together they market 30 acres of produce, employ a wide variety
of chemical-free agricultural techniques, and eat three meals
a day together.
Brubaker, a 62 year-old man who spends almost every hour
of the day in the fields, was introduced to organic farming
at a young age. “My earliest memories are of my father’s
conversations about Paul Keen, a local organic farmer who
visited us and brought books for my dad to read,” Brubaker
said. His father struggled to make a living by farming with
chemicals and stopped using them in 1944 for health reasons.
Brubaker grew up working the farm with his father.
In 1966 he and his wife, Hope, married and subsequently spent
12 years in Somalia and Kenya doing mission work. Near the
end of this period Brubaker contracted Hepatitis and the weeks
he spent in bed provided time for him to contemplate getting
back to farming. “I did a lot of writing and sketching
during that time,” Brubaker said. “I had picked
up a book about organic vegetables and had a lot of ideas.
Harvest Planting at Village Acres Farm
Wednesday, October 1
Village Acres Farm Mifflintown, PA
Join PASA for a morning field day at Village Acres
Farm, a 20 acre Community Supported Agriculture
(CSA) farm that has been in operation for over 20
years. At Village Acres, managed by Roy Brubaker
and his family, more than 70 varieties of fruits,
vegetables and herbs are grown.
They also work with several apprentices each
year who help contribute to the success of the
operation. Farm crops are raised not only for
their CSA shareholders but also for the Tuscarora
Organic Growers Cooperative. The farm is certified
by Pennsylvania Certified Organic (PCO).
Village Acres recently started a winter shares
program for their CSA, which will be highlighted
at this event. Sponsors: PASA, PCO, and Village
Acres Farm. All PASA Field Days are open to the
public and pre-registration is required.
Register online or call PASA to register
for any event. • Online: www.pasafarming.org
• Call: 814-349-9856 (ext. 6) • PASA
Members $10 • Non-members $15 • Youth
(Ages 5–12) $5 • Under 5 years old
“I became aware that changes in farming might not be
the best for our health. I wanted to grow safe nutritious
food for us and others, and not be working around toxic materials.
We thought (a farm) would be a good place for our children
to learn. But we didn’t know what the market would be.”
In 1982 Brubaker and his wife moved their family of six to
the farm in Mifflintown and began growing garden vegetables
and selling strawberries. Early on, they struggled to make
a profit selling locally and Brubaker was forced to take a
job as a school administrator. But in the early 90’s
Brubaker learned of Tuscarora Organic Growers (www.tog.coop)
– a group of neighboring organic farmers who began cooperatively
marketing their goods to Washington D.C.
In 1992, Brubaker certified his farm as organic and this
enabled them to join the coop and sell vegetables for a higher
rate. “Now we can market our products to people who
are increasingly aware of the health benefits,” Brubaker
said. “There’s a better market.” Village
Acres now sells organic asparagus, blueberries, cantaloupes,
green beans, raspberries, rhubarb, squash, strawberries, tomatoes,
potatoes, and watermelons through the coop.
The Brubaker kids bring back new ag ideas
from college … including a CSA
Brubaker was encouraged to keep expanding his organic endeavors
by his two oldest children, who often came home from college
talking about the importance of taking care of the environment.
“They introduced me to Wendell Berry and the importance
of valuing the land,” Brubaker said. “That whole
movement that was happening in college filtered back home.”
Brubaker’s oldest daughter, Angie, helped start the
CSA in 1998, which has grown from 37 customers to 104 this
summer and 40 more through the winter. Though conflict initially
arose over how to split produce between the CSA and Coop,
Brubaker is now glad for the stability the CSA provides. Members
pay a flat rate and receive extra produce on good years and
less on difficult ones. Last year, for instance, the strawberry
crop did poorly but that didn’t affect their income.
“People from the CSA understood,” said Brubaker.
“And other crops did exceptionally well.” This
year, the money from customers enabled the farm to forego
taking out a spring loan for the first time.
Besides providing stability, the CSA gives those at the farm
an opportunity to interact with customers and educate people
about the importance of buying local organic produce. Village
Acres has begun sending out a weekly newsletter providing
information about each week’s harvest, recipes and tips
for using the produce, and news from the farm.
The main difficulty in running the CSA is that it requires
growing a wide variety of vegetables. Village Acres sells
over 70 different kinds, ranging from blueberries to eggplant
to pumpkins. “The advantage of the coop is you can select
a few crops and gain expertise and acquire equipment for them,”
Brubaker said. “But I like to be involved with both.”
Their biggest challenge: improving the
poor local soil
Growing such a variety of crops without the use of chemicals
has forced Brubaker to employ a variety of techniques on his
farm. One of his biggest problems comes simply from not having
good soil. “The challenges we face are not necessarily
because we’re doing it organically,” Brubaker
said. “The challenges come mainly from the type of soils
we’re working with.” Most of the fields are class
2 or 3 soils because of their rockiness and steep slope, which
make them erode easily. Brubaker maintains that poor soil
leads to weaker plants that are more prone to disease.
To increase soil fertility, Brubaker keeps cover crops growing
on his soils year-round. These crops turn sunlight into biomass,
add important nutrients to his soil, and prevent erosion.
Brubaker also rotates plant families every year to ensure
that nutrients are not depleted from soils and he composts
religiously. He spreads poultry manure, old hay, mulching,
wood chips, tree trimmings and has a lawn service bring leaves
every fall. “I’m always on the lookout for things
like that – low cost ways to improve my farm,”
Brubaker said. “In the long term our farm will be healthier.
Organic farming is not disruptive to soils.”
Brubaker has also constructed a greenhouse where he starts
many plants and then transplants them using a “water
wheel.” This implement attaches to the back of a tractor
and inserts water and fertilizer into holes that it digs as
it spins. Two people sit on the back and place plants in raised
beds. This is an efficient way to eliminate the risk of untreated
seeds rotting, especially in wet springs like this last one.
Brubaker has found that recyclable black plastic, laid over
these beds, holds in moisture, heats the soil, and controls
weeds. He uses drip irrigation to conserve water and energy.
Nine years ago, Brubaker’s youngest daughter, Debra,
built a bat house to help control pests for a junior high
science fair. Two years ago the two of them sat on the lawn
in the evening and counted over 400 bats flying out of it.
These bats have especially helped control the lightning bugs,
which used to take bites out of the raspberries.
As children and workers move on, Brubaker
has begun to rely on interns
With his children getting older, and several workers moving
away, Brubaker has begun to rely increasingly on the internship
program for help. The program began in 1991 when his son brought
a friend home from college to work for a summer. Brubaker
has gradually added more help as he’s needed it, advertising
in places such as the ATTRA web site. This year Village Acres
has more interns than ever. The program works well for Brubaker
because it provides labor and he can reward interns with food,
lodging, and education, along with a small monthly stipend
and a share of the profit.
The interns like it as well. “I like that we’re
not just workers,” said Lowen. “Roy is very focused
on make it a learning situation.” Besides leading field
trips to other farms, Brubaker has offered workshops this season
on topics including the building of a deer shack, soil science,
farm finance, field plans for the year, and weed control. Additionally,
each intern is in charge of a different aspect of the farm,
such as “irrigation,” “asparagus,” or
“the tomatoes.” One two-year intern is even running
the CSA program this year.
These interns live and eat with the Brubakers, taking turns
cooking meals. “Roy does a good job of letting interns
be not just employees but contributors to the overall farming
operation,” said Neil Stauffer, another intern. “We
feel like a part of his family. It’s much different
than just going to a job and punching a clock.”
The internship program is one way in which Brubaker is able
to pass on what he has learned. “At my age I’m
thinking of ways to transition to other people who want to
carry on with the farm,” he said. “I want to help
assist with that. And its already happening.”
It is indeed. That day fourteen people, including interns,
friends, and family, had helped in preparing boxes for the
CSA. The lot sat on the lawn in the evening eating a scrumptious
meal of stir-fried vegetables with peanut sauce and fresh
fish from the creek.
There was only one complaint, coming from Lowen. “I’m
so sick of pea shoots,” he said, pushing them to the
side of his plate with a grin. “Pea shoots have been
in every salad since the beginning of the summer.” But
Brubaker, who was sitting next to him, stuck a forkful of
greens into his mouth and smiled contentedly. Apparently,
he didn’t feel he had anything to complain about.