I Took a “Trip” to the Farm by Nuala G.
Last summer and fall, I volunteered most Thursdays at my friend Maya’s dad’s CSA pickup in the College Gardens neighborhood in Rockville. He owns The Farm at Our House with Maya’s mom. Have you ever heard of a CSA? It stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and it’s a mutually beneficial way for farmers to supply food to communities and for communities to have access to fresh, local produce.
I have enjoyed working at the CSA and interacting with the customers. I like to check them in and answer their questions. It’s really fun to tell someone about a vegetable they don’t know about and then convince them to try it. I wanted to interview Farmer Grossman and learn more about the farm itself and where all that delicious produce comes from. Click on this video to learn more about The Farm At Our House. If you would like to experience the yumminess, you can sign up for the 2021 CSA here.
What makes The Farm at Our House unique from other farms?
First of all, we are certified organic. The United States Department of Agriculture recognizes that our farm adheres to standards that are established to differentiate the farms that are organic and the farms that aren't. Second, we farm on land owned by a nonprofit organization called “Our House.” Our House is a program for at-risk young men to learn life skills, and one of the trades they can choose to learn is farming. Lastly, because I teach social studies at Montgomery Blair High School, the students can volunteer with us and get their first impression of sustainable agriculture.
How has this been rewarding for you?
It is always rewarding to produce food that people enjoy. It is also rewarding to figure out how to do something that's challenging and succeed at it. I also love to be part of a community that's trying to figure out how to feed the world using methods that are more environmentally sustainable. And, I get some good food at my house!
How has climate change affected The Farm?
It’s hard to say, but I think there is more awareness of climate change so there is more interest in what we do. But, we can also get some dramatic rainfall such as five inches in two hours. So then we have to figure out how to drain water from the fields in a way that doesn't cause soil erosion. We also have to think about how to reduce our carbon footprint. Agriculture is responsible for a lot of carbon emissions. When you break up the soil, especially finely, a lot of carbon is released so we try to avoid that. We don’t use electric vehicles yet, but we hope to in the future.
What is organic farming?
Organic farming calls for farmers to focus on soil health above all else and human health. To grow things, we need to focus on the organic matter in the soil. Also, we don’t use petroleum products like pesticides and herbicides on the produce.
What is the most challenging thing about being a farmer?
It’s super hard. We have to work all the time; we’re never off. And, you can make big mistakes easily. For example, if I forgot to water my seedlings -- even for one day -- that would cost $50,000. So it's very risky. If the weather’s uncooperative we could lose a lot of crops, too. When you go to the supermarket you can find produce all year for not very much money because there are people all over the world producing things. But what they are getting paid is what you pay at the supermarket. So some of those crops could be coming from countries that don't have environmental regulations and the workers don’t have to be paid much or even at all. So that is the competition. As local organic farmers, we have to be willing to accept that we have to produce crops efficiently enough and well enough to charge people a similar amount of money, but still follow organic practices and pay people fairly.
What do you do during the winter?
In this area, we can harvest crops all year long. We grow things in the fall that we set aside in the winter. There's not as much fieldwork, but oftentimes we do different projects like fixing things and building things to support the farm like high tunnels, a greenhouse, and a large refrigerated storage unit to store crops.
Overall, how does a CSA work?
People pay ahead of time for a predetermined number of weeks worth of vegetables. And with that money, a farm will pay their workers, get prepared, and have the infrastructure to provide the crops. So essentially the customers share the risk of farming because they pay ahead of time. By providing money upfront, The Farm has a more stable income and can plan better and customers are promised a set amount of organic produce. The variety could change if a particular crop doesn’t do well, but customers are still guaranteed a wide variety of flavorful vegetables and fruits.
How is your CSA different from other ones?
Ours is not a lot different, but a lot of CSA’s choose what you get so the produce has been preselected for you. With our CSA, we are unique because we let you come to our farm stand and choose your produce. So we have a u-pick model as opposed to a box model.
Do you sell any hard-to-find produce?
We do have a few things that are different. Like bitter melons, lemongrass, a big variety of tomatoes and peppers. But there’s a lot we sell you can find in stores, too. The biggest thing is that compared to store produce, ours is higher quality and tastes better.
Do you have partnerships with other farms?
Yes! We work with a fruit farm in Pennsylvania that provides most of our fruit. A Montgomery County company imports spices from Sri Lanka, and we share those with CSA members. A farmer who raises hens and produces hay, and we are thinking about working with someone who raises cattle.
Besides the CSA are there other ways people can access your produce?
Yes! You can go to the downtown Silver Spring Farmer’s Market on Saturdays from 9:00 am - 1:00 pm.
How has Covid-19 affected The Farm?
When the grocery store aisles were running low last spring, people became more aware of our farm, and we got a lot of attention and interest. We have also donated to food banks. Sometimes we donate and sometimes we get paid. When they realized most of the food they had was from different countries or other parts of this country, it made them think about food insecurity. We have donated 3,000 pounds of fresh produce last year!
What does the future hold for The Farm?
I hope we can continue to expand and offer more organic produce. We need to renew the lease with Our House because that’s important. I don’t think I would ever stop teaching to run the farm. I have a lot of other responsibilities that teaching allows me to fulfill. It would be a hard decision if I had to choose. I like teaching a lot. And because of that students join us on the farm, and that’s cool. I’ve learned that in Montgomery County there aren’t any opportunities for kids to learn about farming. Unless you’re born on a farm, there are few opportunities to learn how to farm. Farming is a great career for some people and more people should have an opportunity to learn about it.
Can students from other schools volunteer?
We work with many students from all different types of schools. Some students are from private schools, some are from the public, and we even have homeschoolers. Everyone is welcome.
Have you ever heard of Vogue magazine 73 questions interview?
It’s a fun way to interview someone and ask a bunch of quick questions. My version only has nine. Ready?
What is your favorite season? Winter.
In three words, how would you describe yourself? Fun, empathetic, and hardworking.
What’s the best part about being a teacher? Helping students accomplish something they didn’t think they could do.
If calories don’t count, what food would you eat every day? Calories don’t count in my world! I have to have a variety. I can’t imagine eating anything every day. That would be torture.
Do you play an instrument? In high school, I played the trombone, and I can play the guitar a little bit.
What’s something about you that most people don’t know? I’m pretty open. I grew up in Ohio, not on a farm.
What’s your favorite ice cream? Buckeye chocolate with peanut butter and fudge.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given? Don’t take life so seriously.
What place have you been dreaming about traveling to? Lots of places, someplace relaxing. I have family in Israel that I have never met so I’d like to go there. Also, my grandparents are from Germany so I want to visit their hometown.
Do you have any final thoughts?
Yes. Everyone should eat their veggies. It’s the best preventive medicine you can have. So go home and eat those fresh veggies. Fresh vegetables make a difference.