Flexibility is an essential skill in agriculture. Physical flexibility, that’s for sure – any farmer who’s twisted 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 reacting flexibly to what the world throws at you is even more important.
COVID-19 has forced many farmers – and families – to shape their lives in new ways. Smedberg took it all in stride.
In the spring of 2020, “our retail stand closed,” she explains, “and when people started working and homeschooling, my daughter needed someone to look after the grandchildren.Since then, I have looked after three children five days a week.
“It’s been a wonderful opportunity to get involved in their lives,” she says, “and it fits well with my Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) business as I’ve conceived it.
During traditional working hours, she is with her grandchildren. Mornings, evenings and other free time 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 its land, which Smedberg has been growing since 1985. Over 20 acres are dedicated 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 buy shares of her harvest. “People sign up and pay at this time of year,” she says. “Once the harvest begins in July, they come to receive a pre-packaged ration of fruits, vegetables and eggs every week until Thanksgiving.”
She will also sell at the Wilbraham Farmers Market, tentatively scheduled for Wednesday evenings from June.
Selling directly to the people who eat its food allows Smedberg to build its business around its customers. When people sign up, they choose their favorite and least favorite products from the list of what she grows. Then she plans her planting based on group feedback and keeps individual preferences in mind when bagging stock to pick up. For this reason, “registering early is very helpful,” she says. “So I know how much to plant of what.”
“It’s almost like tailor-made gardening for people,” she explains. “I don’t think you should have to pay for something you don’t need or like.”
Green Acres Fruit Farm offers whole and half shares for different family sizes. Like many CSA farms, they require payment before the season starts, but it doesn’t have to be a lump sum. “I offer payment plans,” says Smedberg. “Basically, pay me what you can, when you can, as long as it’s paid in full by July 1. And there are also other financing options in the region.
UMassFive College Federal Credit Union offers loans specifically for CSA agricultural stocks, for example. Clients take out a loan, pay the farmer and repay the loan over six months with 0% interest. Some mutuals also cover part of the ASC shares of their members. Health New England, for example, will cover $200 per year for individuals and $400 for families through its welfare reimbursement program.
When harvest season arrives, customers can choose their preferred pick-up day. “It spreads out the work,” says Smedberg, “and means I can just harvest what’s ripe each day.” She will have produce and eggs ready for members by mid-morning for pick-up anytime. “Some people take what’s theirs and are on their way, or we could chat – talk about gardening tips, recipes, the whole range.”
The first July distributions will likely include tomatoes, summer squash, zucchini and blackberries. Soon raspberries will appear and 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 present most of the season,” says Smedberg. “I try to develop all the basics that people like, but also different things.”
Every year some things grow wonderfully and some struggle. “So much is weather-related,” says Smedberg, “but it affects vegetables differently than fruit. Vegetables that you can sometimes replant, but you only get one harvest of fruit per year. If you get a hard frost during bloom or hail anytime, that’s a problem.
For the most part, Smedberg says customers get it. “That’s the reality of farming,” she says. “We all know what the weather is like in New England.” The ability to have a personal relationship, from farmer to eater, deepens this understanding.
With over 35 years of farming experience, Smedberg firmly believes that it is not brute strength, but rather the ability to bend and not break that enables farmers to meet the toughest challenges.
“It takes a certain mindset to be successful in farming,” she says. “The American Dream says the harder you work, the more successful you are. Me? I can work as hard as I want, but if a tornado hits, as it did near here a few years ago, it doesn’t matter if I’m a good farmer. The outcome is totally out of my control. I just have to be flexible enough to react to whatever happens.
Those interested in inquiring about Green Acres Fruit Farm’s CSA actions can email Smedberg at [email protected] To learn more about other CSA farms near you, visit buylocalfood.org/find-it-locally.