Sharing the risk, reaping the benefits at harvest

April 21, 1999|By Heather Tepe | Heather Tepe,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

IF IT'S true that "you reap what you sow," the Shaws can expect a bountiful harvest from their organic farm this year.

Family members are planting a large variety of vegetables on their west Columbia property: lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, cabbage, beets, turnips, eggplant, herbs, edible flowers and more.

Unfortunately, putting good things into the ground isn't enough to ensure a profitable yield. Pests, disease and bad weather can conspire to make a good season turn bad.

Even when production is high, farmers suffer when over-production results in depressed prices.

That is why the Shaws this year decided to create Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) on their family-owned farm at 8000 Harriet Tubman Lane.

Community-Supported Agriculture is subscription, or contract, farming.

Here's how it works:

The farmer sells memberships, or subscriptions, for a preset value of fresh produce each week during the growing season. Effectively, the members purchase the harvest of fresh produce in advance, reducing the farmer's need to borrow money for seeds and supplies.

The arrangement reduces the farmer's risk; a proportion of the harvest is already sold. And the farmer sees a higher rate of return than if his harvest were to be sold to local grocers at wholesale prices.

Shaw Farms charges subscribers $300 for 20 weeks of fresh produce. Each week, from June through October, subscribers will receive about $15 worth of vegetables.

The produce is selected by the Shaws and packed in boxes for pickup at the farm.

CSA members also receive a discount on other items purchased at the Shaws' produce stand on the property.

John Shaw, patriarch of the clan, passed his love of organic gardening on to his grown children Mark, Susan, David, Michael and Patrick.

Shaw became interested in organic gardening after reading Rachel Carson's book "Silent Spring," which focuses attention on environmental and health problems caused by the use of chemicals in agriculture.

John and Dorothy Shaw moved their family to the Longfellow neighborhood in Columbia in 1967, where he was able to indulge his passion for growing healthy food for his family on garden plots leased through Columbia Gardeners.

"Organic gardening is hard because you can't use the shortcuts other gardeners use," John Shaw says. But he claims the extra effort is worth it because of the satisfaction you get.

"It's gratifying to know that you're giving something back to the Earth by not putting chemicals in the ground," he says.

The Shaws purchased the farm about 15 years ago. They've spent years clearing the land and have sold Christmas trees on the property in the past. The farm property has no house, and John and Dorothy Shaw continue to live in their Longfellow home.

The family's lawn and landscaping business, DL&LS, also operates from the farm. The Shaws began using the property for organic farming about three years ago.

Michael Shaw appreciates the benefits of running a business with his family. "We all have the same goals," he says. "We know each other very well, our strengths and weaknesses, and we know we can count on each other."

His sister, Susan Ongert, agrees. "You can depend on each other more than you can in any other business, and you're working for each other and not just for yourself, so that's a bigger satisfaction."

Dorothy Shaw, up to her elbows in mulch in the greenhouse, says, "We also know when to get out of the greenhouse. People get angry like they do in any business, and we know when to leave and when to come back."

Ongert says the family takes pride in what they grow. "I look at what we do every day, how beautiful it is and how fast it grows. It's very rewarding."

The family also enjoys getting to know its customers. Ongert said, "I really appreciate our customers and how they seem to enjoy our food. We share gardening tips and recipes."

Shaw Farms is a member of the Maryland Certified Organic Growers Cooperative and offers produce from other co-op members at its produce stand, as well as its own vegetables.

The stand will be open seven days a week, beginning next month.

Information: 410-531-9577.

Successful middle-schoolers

Students in Edna Turner's Gifted and Talented resource class at Harper's Choice Middle School received the bronze award from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources for their work reforesting an area on school grounds to create a more natural environment.

Kelan Connolly, Kara Baty, Bridget Holcomb, Katy Roxbury, Meredith Brod and Shelly Burleyson worked in cooperation with Miriam Mahowald and Steve Parker of the Howard County Forest Conservancy Board to construct a "tranquillity garden" at the school.

The students planted more than 32 trees, shrubs and flowers and applied mulch to the area.

"The children wanted to rebuild the ecosystem that existed on the property before the school was built to provide a natural habitat for animals and to provide an outdoor classroom for scientific study," Turner said.

The students will be presented with their award at an Arbor Day celebration in Derwood this weekend.

Also at Harper's Choice Middle, Kayla Moss, Kali Darbouze and Camille Gonzalez won the "Keep Our Community Beautiful" poster contest sponsored by the Harper's Choice Community Partnership -- an association of merchants in the village center that works with schools.

The children's posters are on display at the Harper's Choice Village Center.

Harper's Choice seventh-graders Di Li and Chris Najmi won recognition for their entries in a writing contest sponsored by the National Council of Jewish Women.

The topic was "What Prejudice Means To Me."

And finally, Erica Green, Lindsey Kadiri, Susan Shyu and Javion Sharp -- all from Harper's Choice Middle School -- were awarded medals for their participation in the Optimist Club International's public speaking contest.

Pub Date: 4/21/99

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