February 26, 2012

Advance payment system helps all

Farmers get cash early for crops; buyers get shares

WATERVILLE -- Garrett Glidden recently grew enough potatoes in his small garden to make it through the winter for the first time, stashing the spuds in a shed at his Fairfield home.

click image to enlarge

Robin Wiesner, 35, of 3 Level Farm in South China, gives a few farming tips to Garrett Glidden, 36, of Fairfield, at the Community Supported Agriculture event Saturday afternoon at Barrels Market in downtown Waterville.

Staff photo by David Robinson

When he went to check on his stockpile and found rotting potatoes, however, it quickly became clear he needed expert advice.

The rotten potatoes are what Glidden, 36, says drew him to the Community Supported Agriculture program's event in downtown Waterville, where area farmers gathered Saturday afternoon to meet with residents in the basement of Barrels Market on Main Street.

Glidden told a farmer that he wanted to pick up a few tips and learn about the community agriculture program, which was promoted at similar events held statewide this week. The program gives people a unique way to support area farmers, who sell the community what are known as shares in the farm's operation.

People will sign up for the program and typically make a payment before the growing season, which gives them a discount and helps farmers cover the cost to plant crops and produce food.

After the harvest, people pick up their food at farmers' markets, at the farm and at designated drop-off sites. Farmers often describe the program as an investment to help keep local agriculture alive.

Tom Roberts and Lois Labbe run Snakeroot Organic Farm in Pittsfield, where the couple produces a variety of produce and other organic food items.

Roberts on Saturday said the community support for agriculture saved their farm and the programs membership has grown steadily over the years.

Last season, the farm sold 220 individual $100 shares, up from 180 shares sold the previous year. The added early season investment makes a big difference when compared to the seven shares the couple sold when they started their program in 1999, Roberts said.

"It changed our lives," he said of the program's success.

Glidden plans to look into the programs offered at area farms, saying he learned of the option few days before the event.

He hopes to build relationships with farmers to improve his farming skills, with a goal of some day starting a farm to support his wife, Jeanette, and their 6-year-old son, Skyler.

As for the rotten potatoes, Glidden didn't know how to keep them dry from the moisture seeping into his shed. He asked for a tip from Robin Wiesner, a farmer who works at 3 Level Farm in South China.

Wiesner, 35, told him to try putting the potatoes in buckets filled with dry soil. Glidden, who works at Home Depot, thanked her for the tip and said he planned to give a try when he got home.

"I'm going to ask other farmers for help more often," he said.

David Robinson -- 861-9287



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