Community Supported Agriculture, commonly known as a CSA, is an agreement between consumers and farmers before the growing season starts. The consumer shares the benefits and risks associated with farming by receiving a “share” of food consistent with what is available for harvest. Commonly associated with produce, and sometimes farm-raised foods such as poultry, beef and eggs, the herbal CSA brings recipients a unique take on what is growing in their environment each month.
Although Horus Kelley and Kidder Gowen had been working on the property for several years, they began farming the Hawk and Handsaw Herbals quarter acre, a sub-lease from Aquidneck Community Table, in spring 2018 with plans to double that plot this season. The focus has been bioregional medicinal and culinary herbs for the local community and their own herbal product line. They also grow edible flowers and specialty produce, such as unique varieties of radicchio, endives and radishes for a handful of local restaurants. The bulk of their herb blends and remedies go to their herbal CSA members.
“Our focus has been on growing high quality bioregional medicinal and culinary herbs for our own herbal products, and to provide for other local herbalists and those interested in incorporating herbal wellness practices into their routines,” Kelley said.
By choosing to grow on Community Table land, Hawk and Handsaw Herbals agrees to follow organic practices. However, they have chosen to go one step further with no-till methods for minimal soil disruption and by working toward a regenerative farming system. This means investing time in soil-building through the addition of cover crops, natural soil amendments like locally harvested seaweed or wood ash, and the use of nutrient-rich compost.
The majority of their edible flowers and specialty food crops go to restaurants, such as Stoneacre and Midtown Oyster Bar, who have worked with since it began growing. With their expansion this year, they are looking forward to taking on new wholesale clients and additional growing requests, Gowen said.
“[Our CSA members] are our direct link to sharing medicinal herbs with our community,” Gowen said. “We wanted to find a way to make local herbal medicine more accessible to our community.”
The growers partnered with Sarah Berkman, a community herbalist, to create a program that provides healthy food and herbal/ folk medicine while fostering education and connection to health and the environment. Berkman brings traditional and historical uses of herbs into alignment with modern research and use. In addition to working with clients, she also teaches, gardens, writes and creates herbal formulas.
“We give a lot of focus to our CSA members who receive the bulk of our blends and remedies. We are thankful for the support and engagement we have received through this program,” Gowen said.
The herbal CSA runs in three-month intervals to coincide with the seasons. It includes fresh herbs and medicinal food, products made with herbs from the farm, a class, monthly herb walks and an informational publication, “Take Root.” The publication features in-depth descriptions of seasonal herbs, recipes, interviews and discussions on both modern and traditional medicine. The goal is to provide instruction and education on how everyday plants growing on the island can support health. In addition to fresh herbs, each month CSA shareholders can expect to find formulations such as tea and spice blends, infused oils, tinctures, salves, vinegars and herbal cosmetics in their baskets.
“Herbal CSAs work just like a traditional CSA,” Berkman said. “They keep your dollars in the local community and contribute to the sustainability of local herbal medicine. With a guaranteed market for their medicine, herbalists and farmers can devote more time and energy to growing, making and foraging more potent medicine than constantly worrying about marketing. It’s a win-win for everyone.”
Berkman, Kelley and Gowen had always connected deeply around plants, particularly when Berkman’s tea shop, “Gather” on Broadway, was open. Berkman’s work in the field of herbalism, Kelley and Gowen’s combined experience in the horticultural field, and all three professionals’ commitment to sharing the healing knowledge of plants with the community allowed the idea for an herbal CSA to come together.
“The work they do at Island Community Farm and their expertise in growing, combined with my knowledge of formulation, makes for a pretty great team,” Berkman said.
Members are still being accepted into the spring CSA program. For more information on herb walks, classes, or farm products, or to sign up for the herbal CSA, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit oceansongbirth.com.