Jill Landes, director and farmer at Living Hope, kneeling, shows volunteers Alvin Clemens of Lederach and Robin Whetstone of Green Lane how to harvest spring onions at the Lower Salford farm.
Intern Tyler McCullough and summer employee Hannah Loux roll the row covers off cucumbers.
Jill Landes examines a head of buttercrunch lettuce she harvested from one of the hoop houses at Living Hope Farm. Everything is grown organically on the farm's 40 acres.
There is a simple, soul-soothing goodness that comes from digging your hands into the warm, moist earth; breathing in the scent of new growth.
And you can’t beat the flavor or health benefits of food raised without harsh chemicals fresh from the farm.
Jill Landes, director and farmer, says she hopes people take away that and more at Living Hope Farm. Living Hope, set on 40 pristine acres in Lower Salford, is a non-profit organized under Franconia Mennonite Conference.
Since the 1950’s it has transformed from a family farm to a mission of mercy serving recovering addicts to a conference-owned crop farm. Three years ago, in an effort to be better stewards of the land, it was reborn as a Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) program.
CSAs, despite their rarity in our region, are not a new concept. Originating in Japan and Europe in the 1960’s amid fears of increasing urbanization of farmland, they were brought to the U.S. in the mid 1980’s.
A CSA works by offering memberships to the public where people receive food in exchange for doing a share of the labor at the farm. It serves to provide high quality fruits, vegetables and herbs to the public while reconnecting them with the source of their food – the farmer and the land.
“The hardest thing is that this is just not a well-known thing,” Landes said of CSAs. “But people become very involved in the farm and the more they come, the happier they are at the end of the season.
“The whole idea is getting to know who your farmer is. And it’s so educational for the young kids. They are so disconnected from where their food comes from. We want kids running around here, digging up potatoes.”
Many CSAs, including Living Hope, put an emphasis on growing food organically. At the farm Landes said they don’t use treated seeds or genetically modified organisms (GMOs). They utilize compost and cover crops for fertilization. They bring in beneficial insects like ladybugs, parasitic wasps and lacewings to control pests and supplement that with spraying natural deterrents like chrysanthemum and garlic oils.
Row covers keep out some of the bigger pests that make it through the fence that surrounds 13 acres atop a hill at the site. Additionally, some of the farm’s crops, like heirloom tomatoes, are grown in hoop houses.
“Some people who have allergies to chemicals and pesticides can dive right in,” Landes said, hoisting up a full head of green leaf lettuce. “It’s hard for me to go to the grocery store. I see the lettuce there versus my lettuce. Some of that food comes 1,500 miles to your grocery store.”
Members at Living Hope pay a fee up front for a full or half share and pick up a portion of whatever foods are harvested each week or bi-weekly from May through late October. In the spring and fall, the fields are full of arugula, broccoli raab, lettuces, onions, sugar snap peas, strawberries, beans, garlic and spinach, to name a few. In the summer members will find beets, carrots, eggplant, peppers, melons, potatoes, soybeans, raspberries and tomatoes.
Landes said a full share is normally enough to feed a family of four for a week.
Along with a multitude of vegetables and some fruits, members are also allowed to go into the herb and you-cut flower fields and harvest their own fresh herbs and flower bunches weekly.
The farm also offers wild, sustainably caught Alaskan salmon, pork shares and free-range eggs.
Work shares, of which each member must only put in four hours each year, are posted on the farm’s website. People can choose to transplant, weed or harvest. Or, Landes said, they can use their talents to help around the farm with other tasks like electrical work, weed-whacking or even teaching classes for some of the farm’s agri-entertainment offerings like their canning classes or annual Stone Soup potluck.
In accordance with their mission, the farm gives away about 10 percent of their crops to area food banks like Shepherd’s Shelf and Bridge of Hope of Lansdale. They also team up with churches to give to families in need, many of them single-parent households.
“Food is huge as a part of your budget,” Landes said. “So we are happy to be able to assist them with that.”
Landes said the organization is also looking into partnering with other programs like Head Start to provide fresh snacks for children.
While there is never a dull moment at Living Hope, as the weeds never stop springing up and the daylight never seems long enough, Landes said she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“People have reacted fantastic. They can get things here that you don’t get at your local grocery store. I think of it as their farm. There is a great relationship there.”
For more information on Living Hope Farm, located at 461 Indian Creek Road, Harleysville, call (215)256-4400, visit www.livinghopefarm.org or their Facebook page.