SPOTLIGHT: Community farm provides fresh produce

By Sarah Miller

Mattoon Journal-Gazette

Published: Monday, April 23 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

The smaller plots have been tilled, for the most part, and show signs of what is to come in the customers' early baskets — peas, onions, several varieties of lettuce, cabbage, garlic and perennial herbs.

They even beat the famed Good Friday deadline for potatoes by planting them the week before Easter at the larger 2-acre plot.

The Metzgers grow primarily heirloom varieties at Samara Farm, and most of the seeds are certified organic. They use a few hybrids, but absolutely no genetically modified organisms, she said.

While some CSAs supplement their members' supply using outside sources, the Metzgers grow 100 percent of their crops. Not only do they prefer it that way, but the farmers market they attend in Bloomington requires it, Mrs. Metzger said.

Samara Farm crops are Certified Naturally Grown, a designation granted to farmers who "don't use any synthetic herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics, hormones or genetically modified organisms," according to the Certified Naturally Grown website.

While organic products are available for activities such as weed control, the Metzgers have chosen not to use them at the farm.

"It leaves us doing a lot of things by hand," she said.

CNG is a peer-to-peer program that uses similar standards to the USDA Certified Organic program but is geared more toward small farms, Mrs. Metzger said.

"The inspections are done by other farmers," she said. "We wanted a third party to see the process."

Working alongside their peers is nothing new to the Metzgers. The couple spent their first summer together as apprentices on a homestead organic farm in Maine and have worked on CSAs and small farms in California and New York.

Metzger has a background in physics and was a teacher in the Chicago area before returning to his hometown of Shelbyville in 2009. Mrs. Metzger has a background in environmental science, but both decided that they really wanted to be farmers, she said.

"The major motivation was that I wanted to eat good food," she said. "I'm a food snob."

The only part missing from the equation was the business aspect, so they enrolled in Central Illinois Farm Beginnings classes through The Land Connection, an Illinois-based nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving and protecting agricultural heritage by educating farmers and the public.

The classes provided them with the business skills to run a farm, including budgeting, licensing requirements and writing a business plan, Mrs. Metzger said.

"You have to think about your farm as a business," she said. "They (classes) made us much better farmers in the long run."

As any farmer knows, everything can change with the weather, which is what led to a somewhat difficult season last year due to a drought. The Metzgers hope to maintain a more even level of produce for the CSA and farmers market this year, she said.

"We wound up giving people more then their $400 worth, but some weeks were smaller than others," she said.

Should the area reach drought conditions again, the Metzgers plan to plant seedlings in flats in the greenhouse rather then directly in the ground and use irrigation lines that were installed last year.

Last year, the Metzgers offered 25 memberships and have upped the number to 40 this season. CSA memberships for the upcoming season are still available.

"We're trying to expand every year," Mrs. Metzger said. "We would like to get to a 100-member CSA."

Another goal the couple hope to reach originates from their summer in Maine, where they used horses rather then machinery on the farm.

"That's our long-term dream — to be a horse-powered farm," she said.

Information from: Mattoon Journal-Gazette, http://www.jg-tc.com

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