Farm is born: Signing the lease for the farm property.
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
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
White Dog Café Foundation
3420 Sansom St.
Philadelphia, PA 19104
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 science.
Maysie's Farm Conservation Center
15 St Andrew's Lane
Glenmoore, PA 19343
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
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: www.asustainablefuture.org
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.
Posted MAY 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.
sustainability advocates: The shared vision
was not only to grow food, but to build community
and promote education.
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
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.
our land: We had the people, but we couldn't
find a farmer. So we searched for land. (Looks like
this little lady planting her tree gives it away--Yes,
we found land!)
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 to us.
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 help.
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
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
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 a month!
Where we are and where we're going
community project : Volunteers of all ages
lend a hand prepping Pennypack Farm.
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.