Valley Bounty: Green Acres Fruit Farm
Published Saturday, April 9 in the Daily Hampshire Gazette
By Jacob Nelson
Flexibility is a critical skill in farming. Physical flexibility for sure – any farmer who’s contorted themselves to pull hard to reach weeds, prune a fruit tree, or service a tractor will tell you that. But as Kathy Smedberg of Green Acres Fruit Farm in Wilbraham explains, the soft skill of responding flexibly to what the world throws at you is even more important.
COVID-19 forced a lot of farmers – and families – to bend their lives into new shapes. Smedberg took it all in stride.
In the spring of 2020, “our retail farm stand shut down,” she explains, “and when people started working and going to school from home, my daughter needed someone to watch the grandkids. Ever since then I’ve been caring for three children five days a week.”
“It’s been a wonderful opportunity to be involved in their lives,” she continues, “and it fits nicely with my community supported agriculture (CSA) business the way I’ve designed it.” During traditional working hours she’s with her grandkids. Mornings, evenings, and other spare moments are for the farm. It’s not easy, but Smedberg makes it work.
Green Acres Fruit Farm grows a wide variety of vegetables and fruits on their land, which Smedberg has farmed since 1985. Over 20 acres are devoted to fruit trees – apples, peaches, pears, plums and more. Smedberg also mentions several varieties of blackberries and raspberries, and a large area for annual vegetables. She also raises chickens for eggs.
Most of what she grows is distributed to CSA members who purchase shares of her harvest. “Folks sign up and pay this time of year,” she says. “Once harvest starts in July, they come get a pre-packed allotment of fruits, veggies, and eggs every week through Thanksgiving.” She will also sell at the Wilbraham Farmers’ Market, tentatively scheduled for Wednesday evenings starting this June.
Selling directly to the people who eat her food allows Smedberg to build the business around her customers. When people sign up, they choose their favorite and least favorite produce from the list of what she grows. Then she plans her planting around the group’s feedback and keeps individual preferences in mind when bagging shares for pick up. Because of this, “signing up early is very helpful,” she says. “Then I know how much to plant of what.”
“It’s almost like custom gardening for people,” she continues. “I don’t think you should have to pay for anything you don’t need or like.”
Green Acres Fruit Farm offers full shares and half shares for different family sizes. Like many CSA farms, they need payment before the season starts, but it doesn’t need to be a lump sum. “I do offer payment plans,” Smedberg says. “Basically, pay me what you can, when you can, as long as it’s paid in full by July 1st. And there are other financing options in the area too.”
She also mentions that UMassFive College Federal Credit Union offers loans specifically for CSA farm shares. Customers take out a loan, pay the farmer, and repay the loan over six months with 0% interest. Some health insurance companies will also pay for a portion of their members’ CSA farm shares. Health New England, for example, will cover $200 a year for individuals, $400 for families through their wellness reimbursement program.
When harvest season arrives, customers can choose their preferred pick-up day. “That spreads out the work,” Smedberg says, “and means I can just harvest what’s ripe each day.” She’ll have members produce and eggs ready by mid-morning for pick-up anytime. “Some people take what’s theirs and are on their way, or we might get chit-chatting – talking about gardening tips, recipes, the whole gamut.”
The first distributions in July will probably include tomatoes, summer squash, zucchini, and blackberries. Soon raspberries will cycle in, and bell peppers. Then hot peppers, eggplant, and peaches. In the fall, apples, winter squash, onions, and root crops take center stage. Always a favorite, “sweet corn is around pretty much the whole season,” Smedberg says. “I try to grow all the basics that people like, but different things too.”
Every year some things grow wonderfully and others struggle. “So much is weather-related,” Smedberg says,” but it affects vegetables differently than fruit. Vegetables you can sometimes replant, but you only get one fruit crop a year. If you get a hard freeze during bloom or hailstorm at any point, that’s a problem.”
For the most part, Smedberg says customers get it. “This is the reality of farming,” she offers. “We all know what New England weather is like.” The ability to have a personal relationship, farmer to eater, deepens that understanding.
With more than 35 years of farming experience, Smedberg firmly believes that it’s not brute force, but rather the ability to bend and not break that gets farmers through the toughest challenges.
“It takes a certain kind of mindset to succeed in farming,” she offers. “The American Dream says the harder you work, the more you succeed. Me? I can work as hard as I want, but if a tornado comes through, like it did near here a few years ago, it doesn’t matter how good a farmer I am. The outcome is totally beyond my control. I just have to be flexible enough to respond to whatever happens.”
Those wishing to inquire about Green Acres Fruit Farm’s CSA shares can email Smedberg at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about other CSA farms near you, visit buylocalfood.org/find-it-locally.
Jacob Nelson is communications coordinator for CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture).