Eric & Crystal Stevens of LA VISTA CSA
26 April 2013
LH: What led you to start a farm in Godfrey, IL? Why did you choose the CSA (Community Supported
Agriculture) model over that of a traditional independent farmer?
ES: La Vista Farm was seeking out a Head Farmer in 2010. I applied to this position because I was familiar with the lay of the land in Illinois along the scenic river ways and its fertile soil. The infrastructure was already in place. It was supported by a group of existing CSA members, called the core group, which all have volunteer roles in continuing the operation of the farm—such as tractor maintenance, accounting, outreach, and facilitating membership. The position was equally attractive because I could hire my wife, Crystal, to start all of our seeds as the greenhouse manager. The other perk was that La Vista sits on a beautiful acreage on the bluffs of the Mighty Mississippi, yet is close enough in proximity to Saint Louis, our home town. The CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Model gives the farmer a sense of financial security as shareholders invest a lump sum in the farm before the season begins. In return, members receive fresh local seasonal produce, grown without pesticides, each week for 27 weeks. The CSA model is designed in a way that builds community, supports the local economy, and provides healthy local produce with the changing seasons.
LH: You grow a greater variety of produce at La Vista than do many commercial farmers. Beyond the obvious benefits to your members’ taste buds, what are the pros and cons of such a diversified crop?
ES: Commercial farms often grow large plots of mono-crops. Because La Vista practices sustainable growing methods, we feel it is beneficial to the health of the soil and ecosystem within the farm to have diversified crops that we rotate annually. This will attract more beneficial insects, discourage diseases and unwanted insects, and will help to prevent the depletion of soil nutrients. Additional pros to growing a diversified crop of vegetables are to ensure a weekly supply of seasonal produce to members and to educate them about the nutritional benefits of eating a wide spectrum of produce. Members naturally get to witness which diverse crops are in season throughout the year and get to experience new vegetables that they may not have eaten before. We provide delicious recipes through our newsletter to give creative ways to prepare unfamiliar vegetables. The cons are that we spend a great deal of time harvesting such a wide array of produce that other important aspects of the farm get put on the back burner.
LH: Describe a day in the life of your farm.
ES: We begin each morning with watering our seedlings in the greenhouse and opening the doors to ensure good ventilation throughout the day. Usually I am on the tractor for a good portion of the day, while Crystal sows seeds and transplants seedlings into larger pots in the greenhouse. I usually delegate a list of tasks to our apprentices first thing in the morning during an informal farm meeting. Our days are always determined by the weather. On sunny days, we plant in the fields, sift worm castings, weed, mulch, lay straw, lay down drip irrigation. On rainy days, we catch up on organization, seed sowing, and filling trays with soil. Crystal is always busy with the greenhouse, training apprentices, writing the newsletter, and helping to organize farm events and workshops. She also handles a lot of the marketing and publicity for the farm. As soon as the season begins, the whole farm crew will spend most of our days planting, harvesting and washing vegetables, and setting up the share
room on pickup days. On the weekends, we stay busy by setting up our farm booth at events around town. We deliver to St. Louis every Saturday morning. During the season, we usually work 12 hours a day, 6 days per week.
LH: What is the most significant quality of your produce? Does the communal method of farming make a difference?
ES: We take pride in presentation. We strive for excellence in the quality of our produce. We harvest produce when it is at its peak flavor and choose specific times of the day to harvest specific crops. We harvest our gourmet lettuce blend in the morning before just after sunrise, tomatoes after the dew has lifted, and greens when the sky is overcast. We appreciate the hard work of those come out on volunteer work days. Many hands make light work.
LH: What is your favorite local product?
ES: Some of our local favorites include Schlafly beer, Goshen and Kaldi’s Coffee, Claverach Farms Sunflower Sprouts, Ozark Forest Mushrooms, Live Springs Farm Eggs & Chicken, Ivans Figs, Bellows Creek Smoked Anchos, Del Carmen Black Beans , Kakao Chocolate, and anything from Four Seasons Bakery.
LH: La Vista CSA seems like a self-supporting venture—or rather, a self-sustaining community. What’s your relationship with Local Harvest?
ES: I was commissioned by Pat to create the original wooden drop sign for Local Harvest Grocery and commissioned the following year to create the sign for the cafe. My wife and I have been providing our farm fresh produce and artisan goods to Local Harvest for over 6 years. We are honored to be a part of the Local Harvest Community.
LH: CSA members share in both the successes and failures of the farm. Last summer was pretty rough for most farmers. How do you deal with the off years? Your community must prove a boon in these times.
ES: The drought was rough. Luckily, our only crop failure last year was butternut squash. We were highly disappointed. However, we exceeded the weekly average value of $22 for each share every week during the drought. We were able to offer a plethora of bell peppers, 8 lbs of tomatoes, sweet potatoes, Yukon gold and red potatoes, scallions, root vegetables, and plenty of fresh herbs even through the one hundred degree weather, which seemed to go on for weeks. This is another reason why we grow a wide array of crops, to ensure that even in times of drought, members are sure to
get the full value of their share each week in the form of several drought-tolerant crops.
LH: Why should people buy local?
ES: People should buy local most importantly to reduce their carbon footprint. Produce travels thousands of miles to reach grocery stores, which means that we rely on fossil fuels much more than we account for in our daily lives. That same produce could be 2 weeks old before it even reaches our tables, which depletes its nutritional value. Produce grown locally is transported less, more nutritional, fresher, and more diversified because local farmers can grow crops that have a shorter shelf life.