By Kristen Wilmer, CISA Program Assistant
Published in CISA’s September 2012 Enewsletter.
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“I’m in the classroom every day, so I have to practice what I preach,” says Susan Kosinski, who teaches high school chemistry in addition to farming alongside her husband Gene at Kosinski Farms. Both Susan and Gene strive to continually educate themselves – as well as their students and customers – about farming methods that protect the environment and human health. They enjoy passing on their knowledge to customers at their busy farm stand and U-pick fruit fields in Westfield, as well as to students in Susan’s classes and those visiting the farm on field trips. They are one of only a handful of farms in their town. “People just don’t equate farming with Westfield,” Susan says, “Educating people in this area – that’s the key.”
Susan and Gene Kosinski met, literally, in the blueberry field. Both of them had grown up on farms, and the two got to know each other when Susan came to work for Gene’s father picking blueberries. Decades later, they are still farming alongside each other, together with the next generation: their son Mike who is now actively involved in the farm. They still grow blueberries (upwards of 40 acres) along with peaches, apples, and a wide variety of other vegetables and small fruit.
This year, the Kosinskis were persuaded by their customers to start offering CSA shares, which spurred them to grow a much wider variety of vegetables than they had before. They also offer regular installments of fruit as part of the share, which makes them stand out among CSA farms. The feedback they’ve gotten so far has been overwhelmingly positive, and they are already making plans to expand the CSA next year.
The Kosinskis are committed to following the principles of integrated pest management (IPM) in their orchards and berry fields – a system of closely monitoring pests and using a variety of preventative and carefully timed control methods to reduce chemical use. “We have been involved in IPM ever since we started growing,” says Susan. The environment is the number one reason, and of course our own safety. And cost-wise it’s foolish not to. We are not organic,” explains Susan, “but we try to come as close to being pesticide-free as we possibly can through our IPM. In general, our philosophy is that when there’s fruit on the bush we don’t spray.”
Susan and Gene are well-equipped to use the latest science to inform their farming methods. A weather station located right at the farm allows them to track temperature and wetness so they can accurately predict insect and disease pressure. “I can’t tell you how much we rely on that,” says Susan. Susan studied biology and chemistry, and Gene has a background in plant science, so both are adept at incorporating new research into the farm’s approach. They make it a point to keep up with the latest technology, and are at the forefront of renewable energy: their farm stand is solar-powered and their greenhouses, home and barn are all heated largely with corn, grown by their son Mike.
Susan laughs as she describes her passion for bringing farming into the classroom. “They know more about this farm operation than many of my employees do,” says Susan of her students. “They’re like, ‘oh no, here she goes again!’ I want to make sure my students are aware of what’s going on in the practical side of chemistry. Any time you can get the kids out in the real world it’s wonderful.”
Susan’s pride in her own children and their farming background shows as she describes each of their chosen professions. Whether working now in academia, hotel management or agriculture, she says, “They’ve all got a great work ethic.” She thinks their experience on the family farm has been key. “I really believe it’s the farm life that has given them this start – they’re accustomed to work being part of life. I think it’s a wonderful way of teaching your children and your grandchildren about life in general.”
And one life lesson learned from farming, perhaps, is that a measure of well-directed persistence can bring real, tangible results. As Susan puts it, “Despite the fact that you work extremely long hours, at the end of the day you look at what you’ve done and see that you’ve really accomplished something.”