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Tait Farm trades fresh food for hard labor

by David Reinbold

With food prices going through the roof, some folks are looking to Tait Farm in Centre Hall for locally grown, organic food that doesn’t cost them any cash—just four hours of work per week.

As part of Tait’s Community Harvest program, about a dozen “work-shares” exchange their labor for weekly supplies of produce—and a chance to have a hand in the food they consume.

“So far, working for Tait has been great,” said Misha Moschera, who began her commitment to Tait at the beginning of May. “I find it incredibly rewarding because I feel like people today are so detached from where their food comes from.”

Erin McKinney, one half of the resident farming duo behind the Community Harvest program, said work-shares do everything except operate heavy machinery.

“They can weed, harvest, mow—everything,” McKinney said.

Though there’s a waiting list for work-shares, Tait may soon add a few more names to the list of 170 Community Harvest members, who purchase half-year or full-year shares—which cost $600 and $1,000, respectively—for weekly supplies of fresh produce.

Brittany Harris is a volunteer who recently began working for Tait Farm. She said community-supported agriculture is the wave of the future in farming.

“In 10 to 15 years, (CSAs) are going to have to grow larger if we want to keep living the way we do,” said Harris, who looks to the ever-rising cost of food and energy as a precursor of what’s to come.

“We can’t keep transporting food from places that are far away,” Harris said. “We need to start buying locally and cut down on our carbon footprints.”

The Community Harvest program, which owner Kim Tait said is attracting more people than ever, seems to be riding the wave of popularity of CSA nationwide.

CSA is an innovative business model breathing new life into small farms that are struggling to survive in an industry dominated by large corporations.

Tait explained that the farm can better ensure financial stability by selling shares, because members, by paying for a yearly subscription, assume some of the financial risk associated with fluctuations in growing conditions and market prices.

Many farms with CSA programs are also rolling out work-share initiatives similar to Tait’s, because bartering products for physical labor helps them to cut costs.

Both membership and work-share programs keep interest piqued by allowing for closer consumer-producer relationships.

“We have all these professional people in our lives: doctors, lawyers, dentists, etc.,” Tait said. “But most people don’t know who their farmer is. It’s like, ‘Do you know where your food is coming from?’”

The exact beginning of CSA in the United States is debatable, but according to Local Harvest, an organization that promotes locally grown food, there were about 50 CSAs in 1990. Today that number has grown to more than 1,000.

“This year we find ourselves in an interesting position,” said Tait of the 25-member waiting list. “We’ve never had that before, and we want to wait until the season gets rolling until we commit to too many people.”

According to Tait, the 10 acres of land currently dedicated to the Community Harvest program yield enough crops to supply the program’s members and work-shares, as well as the farm’s retail store and farmers market booths. Tait said membership will likely max out at 200.

“Culturally, I think what’s happening is all the dots are being connected,” Tait said. “Groceries are going up, gas has been going up, and now people are saying, ‘It’s probably healthier if it’s grown locally. It’s probably cheaper.’”

For Moschera, it’s also about overcoming our alienation from food production.

“I think everyone should have an opportunity to work on a farm and actually work for their food,” Moschera said. “As cliché as it sounds, I really do feel a connection to where my food is coming from and a stronger connection with the earth.”


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