Continuing our theme of How Things Change, an early look at the now-burgeoning local-food movement in Indiana, back when you had to put “community-supported agriculture” in quotes, so readers would know it was this crazy new idea. I looked up this CSA’s URL with some trepidation, expecting to find it long-gone, but still it thrives! Good news. This was originally published in May 2003.
Jeff Hawkins dropped me a note a few years ago, after I wrote something about food. I think I talked about how hard you have to look to find organic this and free-range that; he sent me a brochure for the Hawkins Family Farm.
It was an experiment, he said, in “raising some food where we know what it is and what’s in it.” The first year, he bought 25 chickens and raised them the old-fashioned way – under a blue North Manchester sky, where they were allowed to scratch the dirt and chase bugs and be chickens.
“My daughter named them all,” he said. Typical first-year mistake for chickens destined for the pot.
But the experiment went fine otherwise, and the next year he bought a few more, and started selling them.
“The old-timers said (the poultry) tasted the way they used to taste,” he said. He began to suspect he might be on to something.
He is. This year the brochure arrived right on time, at the beginning of the growing season. But the Hawkins Family Farm is no longer a health spa for chickens. They’ve added beef, turkeys, fresh produce and a plan – “community-supported agriculture.”
Today, in addition to direct-sale poultry, the farm operates on a share system. For $1,080, shareholders get a quarter carcass of beef, 25 chickens, fresh produce for 22 weeks, soup beans, a Thanksgiving turkey and “extras” – flowers, experimental crops and the like. All the meat is free-range and humanely slaughtered. Fifty shares are available, minus the five he will tithe to local food banks.
“It’s become a calling,” said Hawkins, who quit his job as pastor of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in North Manchester to run the farm full time.
He’s also using the farm as the basis for a new ministry, aimed at the well-being of clergy. About a dozen ministers meet monthly on the farm for a “day away” of work and discussion – a working retreat for personal reflection.
Hawkins believes we spend a lot of time talking about how the hand of God moves in the world, but too little actually going out to see it at work. He found, with two teenage children, that doing farm chores together has a way of loosening restraints on conversation. And a day on the farm, away from one’s usual work and concerns, “connects us to the natural world” in ways other activities don’t, he said.
Nevertheless, it’s not all blue skies and fresh breezes.
“This is teaching me a number of things,” he said. “It’s teaching me a whole lot about trust, and to learn to ask for help.” When you’re an unemployed preacher embarking on an experiment in community agriculture, you need a lot of both.
It’s not unheard of. No less an entity than the U.S. Department of Agriculture recognizes community-supported agriculture as a viable economic model for small farms. And Hawkins doesn’t discount the hunger some townfolks have for a slower pace of living, as well as farm-raised food. Shareholders may be asked to pick their own produce, which saves labor and assures customers of the freshest possible product, among other things.
“(Wife) Kathy plans to have the porch swing ready and a pitcher of iced tea waiting for you when you come to the farm,” the farm’s Web site says. (Yes, Web site. Even back-to-the-land folks have to live in the modern world, and the farm’s place in it is at www.hawkinsfamilyfarm.com.) Come, pick, reconnect – that’s the message.
And get a chicken that tastes the way they used to. Not a bad deal.