Established 2000

Phoenixville, PA

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History


In 1990, the Andersen Family moved to Broadwater Farm in the Pickering Valley outside of Philadelphia. It wasn't until 1999 that we bought the neighboring farm and established it as Charlestown Farm in 2000. It was an opportunity of a lifetime: to save the idyllic rolling fields from development and to turn the land into a local source of outstanding organic vegetables and fruits for our community. We saved the land through farming.


Charlestown Farm had been farmed conventionally and chemically for years. The operation consisted solely of open fields planted in hay, corn and soybeans, with frequent pesticide and herbicide use. We set out to create a viable sustainable farming operation, from establishing a market for local produce to creating infrastructure.


Despite the large number of potential customers in our suburban Philadelphia community, there was no ready way to access this market. Retailers sold vegetables they could buy in bulk from California or Florida, not the little town of Phoenixville. Local food was an ideal, not a reality. We did two things to create access to our harvest: we started a CSA and we started the Phoenixville Farmers' Market .


How do you start a farm?


We needed infrastructure. We started by building the basics: a driveway and a barn, erected by our Amish friends With a roof in place, we began the next steps, from adding an irrigation system and an erosion control system to creating a hoop house, a root cellar, and fences.


We also needed soil. Sure, there were rolling fields now planted in grass, but the soil beneath was practically lifeless, depleted by years of chemical farming. We began a disciplined regimen of rotating fields and planting cover crops of rye, buckwheat and hairy vetch to rejuvenate the soil and make it fertile once more.


Most critically, we needed talented farmers. We were blessed first with the hiring of Aimee Kocis and John Good (now Aimee and John Good), gifted growers who left in 2005 after four years with us to operate a CSA they started at the Rodale Institute, one of the country's first and pre-eminent organic farms located in Emmaus, Pennsylvania. Our second farmer, Sue Kilpatrick (now Sue Decker), was also a talented grower. After four years with us, she purchased her own farm in Hudson, New York where she is now starting a CSA. In 2012, we welcomed Michelle Kenslter as Farm Manager. She comes to us from Quiet Creek CSA at the Rodale Institute where she apprenticed and assisted farm management under Aimee and John Good, our first farmers. Michelle is continuing our tradition of excellent growing.


Our CSA has grown and now supports 150 members and their families. As the CSA has matured, we have been able to improve our produce and our production systems. Each year, we have expanded our fleet of farm equipment to increase the efficiency of our non-certified organic operation. For example, in 2008, we purchased a new John Deere 6430 primary tillage tractor, an old John Deere model 30 two-row potato digger, a two-row transplanter, and a John Deere manure spreader. In 2009, we purchased a Kuhn 3-bottom roll-over plow, constructed a wood-fired cob bread and pizza oven, and improved the farm roads.


Each year, we ask our members for feedback, and act on it. As a result of these surveys, we have expanded our U-Pick and herb gardens, stopped planting certain vegetables while growing more of others, and increased our cooking workshops, for both children and adults. To increase small fruit production, we have installed a 1-acre planting of table grapes and blueberries, which is fenced to protect from deer and is netted during the harvest to protect from birds. In addition, we recently planted over 600 raspberry and black raspberry plants.

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2012 Charlestown Farm