When Katie Brownell and Michael Herbst started Red Hawk Rise Organics four years ago, they had already collected years of hands-on experience in small-scale organic farming. Both had managed farms and also worked on the retail side with farmers markets. Mike spent time as a produce manager for a co-op grocery store and Katie took time to get certified in organic farming at Michigan State University. By 2017 they were ready to start their own farm, which led them to Jefferson County. They wanted to be near family in DC and Jefferson offered good soil and the right price for land.
Brownell described the attraction of working on a small plot farm: “With the small scale, you have a lot of control. By keeping hands-on we keep our sellable percentage high. We are with the crops every day and can manually control weeds and pests. The cost of land is a big barrier for a new farmer, so being small helps on the way in and also means less equipment and smaller equipment. We have a walk-behind tractor, but mostly we use hand tools, so we can keep our rows tight, so we are growing on more of our land.”
Herbst recalled the amount of work it took to get up and running: “We got the place in July 2017 and it was completely overgrown, but we were producing by March 2018. Basically we cleaned it up and put it together over the winter. For the first several years I was nervous about everything. By now, we feel more capable and are more relaxed. You start to understand the seasonality and it’s more of a routine. You still need ingenuity to deal with the details, but we don’t stress about it.”
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
Herbst also noted that “running a farm is not just about growing vegetables. We had to set up the marketing and selling too. That’s what led us to the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model.” In a CSA, customers buy a share of the crop up front. The farmer gets funds to plant and the customer gets a box of fresh produce each week over the course of the spring, summer and fall. Herbst tries to keep his program flexible, offering different options for how many weeks and a couple of vacation weeks too.
For 2021, in addition to the CSA program, Red Hawk Rise Organics is selling at the Shepherdstown Farmers Market. For details on their CSA program, growing methods, and what they grow, visit RedHawkRiseOrganics.com.By Staff Contributor