Knowing is Growing Blog

Our Farm blog

Blog No. 5 – May 2024

Blog writer Dan Ingram is a USDA Community Nutrition Educator, Food and sustainability Certified, and PN-1C Nutrition Coach.

I am compelled to share my thoughts after a recent visit to the grocery store. With my passion for nutrition, regenerative agriculture, and our food system, an issue that wears on my mind is the vast amount of easily available highly processed and ultra-processed food. Knowing that Americans consume the most highly processed food at an average of sixty percent, adds to the concern.

While waiting in line at the store, I turned around and glanced at the endcaps. Sodas, chips, plastic jugs of cracker mixes, artificial whipped cream, and chicken nuggets were all on display. Then, I thought of Oxen Hill Farm while working at the CSA in Suffield one summer. I remembered the big crates of produce and the colorful varieties. What a contrast between overly processed food products and nature’s bounty from our favorite farm!

Our food system is not yet focused enough on health. The most advertised products typically contain little nutritional value and more ingredients to avoid. My studies at Cornell taught me that the pressure from large food manufacturers to keep introducing highly processed food has a negative dual effect on people’s health and the environment.

What can we do? We can be mindful of how convenience and highly processed food displace our consumption of whole foods, especially vegetables. Ready-to-go foods do come in handy sometimes, for sure.

The good news is that it is easy to add veggies to your day when you’re a member of the CSA – oh nice rhyme there!

Implementing a societal shift to change eating habits for the benefit of good health is difficult but not impossible. A plan is underway to include more nutrition information in the form of a ‘Front of Package Label.’ There will likely be a scale that indicates the benefit, and, in some cases, the potential detriment of certain food products. Some companies that produce healthy foods have already proudly placed some valuable information on the face of their packaging. I like to call those ‘badges of honor.’ If you remember from one of my early blogs, I am a big believer in transparency in our food system.

Speaking positively about good food choices within your circles is a great way to make an impact. Sharing healthy recipes is another tool to communicate better community nutrition. In the grocery store, you might mention how you are a member of the Oxen Hill Farm Certified Organic CSA to support your health and a local farm, too! What else are you going to talk about in line… the weather? Thanks for reading!

Blog No. 4 November 2023

The Top 7 Benefits of an Organic CSA

Do you know that Community Supported Agriculture in the US started here in New England almost 40 years ago? The concept was developed here by Robyn Van En, a famous farming woman and agricultural visionary from the Berkshires, and Jan Vander Tuin, a man who explored various growing methods and studied the benefits of local food. Some worldly hands-on experience came from Switzerland, Germany, and Chile. 

Benefit #1

Members of CSAs gain the incredible satisfaction of supporting our vital local farms. CSA members are part of a rapidly growing movement that connects them directly to a shared experience with their farmer and the enjoyment of nourishing farm-fresh local products. The support of CSA members provides the farmer with consistency to overcome challenges and enhance the upcoming growing season. As with many hard-working local farms, CSA members are considered an extension of the farm family. This highly valued community connection is embedded in ‘Community Supported Agriculture.’  

Benefit #2

Community Supported Agriculture is an act of solidarity that directly strengthens the local economy without involving outside players or go-betweens. This more straightforward alternative economic approach benefits citizens, farmers and their farm workers, partners, and consumers. 

Benefit #3

A CSA is part of an Agroecology system that prioritizes environmental and human health. The knowledge and methods of producing safe and healthy food from generations are highly regarded when farmers look to the future of our food system. CSA farms are known to be passionate about nurturing the land and working beyond a sustainable food system to a regenerative system that nourishes farmland and, in return, human health. As a Certified Organic CSA, Oxen Hill Farm is a leader in stewarding health. 

Benefit #4

True CSAs, which often combine organic farming or other natural growing methods, increase local species’ biodiversity by a significant factor in the ecosystem. This benefit is quite unlike large-scale corporate farm institutions, which are known to decrease species, destroy habitats, and degrade soils due to massive land clearing and the use of heavy synthetic inputs (fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides). 

Benefit #5

A CSA membership encourages healthy and mindful nutrition. Oxen Hill Farm’s social media pages share many recipes and ways to prepare foods that are part of your CSA. Besides hearing from the farm, you’ll often hear chatter about recipes and meal prep from members as they pick up their share.

Benefit #6

The farms that feature CSA grow a better diversity of crops. This is a dual benefit. Your Oxen Hill Farm CSA allows you to select favorites and further customize your selection. That is only possible thanks to growing a vast amount of crop diversity. Crop diversity also guards the health of the farmland by preventing disease, feeding the soil, reducing compaction, producing healthier and more resilient plants, and helping farmland adapt to the pressures of nature and climate.

Benefit #7

Community Supported Agriculture is ‘way cool’ as Lisa Griffin might say. It started as a fairly radical idea that became transformative to sustaining local agriculture. About 140,000 farms in the US sell their goods directly to consumers! Farms offering CSAs are on a path of rapid growth. This is partly due to the informed consumer seeking fresh local foods grown in a manner that is safe for them and their families. Now more than ever, people want to know where their food comes from as they grew tired of industrialized food marketing that, unfortunately, promotes an unhealthy detachment from food. New England Farms’ direct-to-consumer market (CSA as the major channel) grew by 20% with the addition of only a 1% increase in participating farms. It sure looks like your local Organic CSA at Oxen Hill Farm and other farms are working harder than ever to satisfy our needs!

(Information for this blog has been gathered from various current resources, including USDA statistics, farming advocacy agencies, and agricultural research programs.)

Thanks for reading! 

Blog No. 3 Sept 2023

Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) Summer 2023 Conference

Farmers are great collaborators. Besides the generations of amazing knowledge, they access many agencies and alliances (when there is time) for continual improvement. Organic farmers are especially dedicated to the process of supplying safe and healthy food, while prioritizing environmental stewardship. 

The NOFA Summer Conference had some prevailing themes. Our blogger, Dan Ingram, attended this year. In this blog, he shares a summary of the weeklong learning events and the in-person intensive workshops.

In the midst of the summer floods of late July and continued rains afterward, a strong sense of resilience and knowledge sharing was quite recognizable amongst the farmers and their partner organizations at the conference. There were so many great learning opportunities. However, soil health appeared to be a front-runner on the list.

In regards to the recent intense wet weather, farmers who make great efforts to naturally maintain healthy and productive soil have better chances against weather extremes for both heavy rains and drought periods, too. Soil science is very complex; just like human science there is still much to uncover. 

Did you know human and soil microbiomes have many similarities? It is true. Many trusted sources cite the link between the two and express the importance of consuming nutrient-rich foods, especially vegetables and fruits, along with fiber.  Hirt H. (2020). Healthy soils for healthy plants for healthy humans: How beneficial microbes in the soil, food and gut are interconnected and how agriculture can contribute to human health.EMBO reports,21(8), e51069. 

Typically, eco-friendly farming methods, including organic (Yay, Oxen Hill Farm!), focuses intently on soil health and the connection to human health. USDA defines soil health “as the continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals, and humans.” Soil is amazing;it regulates water flow, acts as a filter, detoxifies materials (good, bad, and otherwise), and cycles nutrients for storage and transformation.

Organic farming is a champion for healthy soil. This diligent farming method maintains soil with more organic matter, facilitates essential pores (like our skin), locks down carbon, promotes biodiversity, and a whole lot more…if you dig deep enough!

Thanks for reading! 

Blog No. 2 – July 2023

5 Reasons Why Transparency is Important

How can we make consistently healthy choices within our enormous food system? If you ask Dan Ingram, who is a contributor to the Knowing is Growing Blog, works as a USDA Community Nutrition Educator, and is a recent student of Food and Sustainability at Cornell, the answer is likely transparency.

What is transparency, and how do you recognize something transparent? Hmm… 

 In the world of food and nutrition, transparency means the responsible parties that get food from point A to the dinner plate have all revealed their methods, operational practices, and the care taken to have quality food. 

1) Transparency is a window of understanding, rather than a lot of hype or sellers’ talk, which is unfortunately so pervasive with food marketing.

Consider all the food groups and extended food categories- fruits, vegetables, dairy, seafood, meat, grains, beverages, plant-based options, meat alternatives, supplements, and specialized dietary needs. They all compete for your attention and against other food groups within their category.

2) Transparency navigates you to the best path of healthy eating.

Our first blog discussed the vital importance of quality food and nutrition and how it positively affects a healthy and thriving community. We cited a heartwarming example of knowledge shared through generations of farming.  

3) Transparency is clear when knowledge is transferred for the benefit of improved productivity, better health, a joyful life, and a sustainable community. That commitment over 11 generations resulted in a well-deserved farming family Hall of Fame induction. Now that is incredible transparency!

Oxen Hill Farm is proud to be USDA-Certified Organic. The farm must conform to very substantial guidelines for its growing practices. Oxen Hill Farm has been a certified organic grower since 2012 . Each year the paperwork application must be completed, and an on-site inspection must be done by the certifying agency. 

A brief summary of the term organic starts with the commitment to CSA members and others to provide produce free of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and genetically-modified organisms, which has been grown in a manner that is sustainable and respectful of the natural environment. There is much more to understanding the concept of Organic growing, which will be looked at in future blog articles.

4)Transparency is a fundamental requirement of an Organic grower. Its roots are fully attached to both human and environmental health.

A farmer must produce three years of Organic-compliant land history records before Organic certification can be considered. Once certified, farmers must keep extensive records of all seed sources, crop rotation plans, pest management, nutrient stewardship, and soil testing. A written audit, on-site inspection, and random plant tissue sampling are performed annually to validate compliance.

Oxen Hill Farm is proud to be in the fifteenth season of organic vegetable management practices. This is a commitment made to last into the future for the benefit of everyone’s future.

5) The transparency of USDA Certified Organic Farming looks far into the future, a future that is healthy and sustainable.

Thanks for reading! Knowing is Growing will be back soon!

Blog No. 1 – June 2023

The team recently discussed some of the most impactful factors affecting our Certified Organic CSA (Community Shared Agriculture) and the entire Oxen Hill Farm business. The one prevailing theme was always community. We genuinely cherish our part in the community and are grateful for the many who include us in their lives.

Sure, the technical aspects of organic farming include many risks, an array of inputs, equipment, storage, and upkeep. Nevertheless, it is the people who make Oxen Hill Farm a thriving member of a community that runs far and wide.

 We strive to make our thriving community a welcoming space where people can experience good health, joy, and fulfillment. Whether chatting at a CSA location or donating food to charities and food pantries, engaging in our community means so much to us.

Knowing is Growing, our blog name, fits well with our community theme. Sharing knowledge for the common good is how a community grows and succeeds. A recent example of our deep community roots occurred last month at the 2023 Suffield Foundation for Excellent Schools Hall of Fame Ceremony. Our very own Harrison Griffin is the 9th generation of his family farm. Harrison was honored for his 37 years as an educator last Friday. We are grateful and inspired by Harrison and Carol’s examples of being lifetime learners and contributors to our community.

You might think that is as wonderful as it gets; however, there was a bonus to this year’s honorees. Many of the people receiving Hall of Fame Membership have a connection to the farm in some way! This surprising connection brings home how much the community supports Oxen Hill Farm. In return, we are very proud to support our community, too. It feels more like a family, but a huge one and still growing!