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PRODUCER PROFILE
Troy Community Farm
The Little Farm The Could

Sitting on formerly abandoned land which has been reclaimed, renewed and is sustaining a large community, Troy Community Farm is just one part of a multi-faceted inner city vision called Troy Gardens. The kids’ gardening program, the native prairie area, the woodland area, the community gardens, the community farm and, finally, the completion of a greatly anticipated co-housing project have brought this six-year-old, 31-acre urban development seed to fruition.

The property on Troy Drive in Madison is owned by the Madison Area Community Land Trust whose mission it is to provide affordable housing to low-income community members. With strategic assistance from the University of Wisconsin and major donors and continual backing from community members to develop the farm and natural area programs, the long-term vision for the land became a reality when new homeowners began moving into the 30 newly constructed co-housing homes last autumn.

This final component of Troy Gardens comes after several years of farm, land and educational program development. Largely sustaining itself as a community supported agriculture (CSA) farm, the five acres that comprise Troy Community Farm also provide sprouted seeds and fresh herbs for Willy Street Co-op shoppers.

“Local”, “convenient” and “certified organic” are the three most fitting descriptors for this unique farm on Madison’s northside that also grows over 40 varieties of vegetables for their 110 CSA shares and Northside Farmers’ Market customers.

Farm and Field Youth Training Program

Area high school students are interviewed each season to participate in the Gardens’ Farm and Field Youth Training Program. Just sixteen students are hired to participate in this educational job training program which focuses on sustainable agriculture and natural areas restoration. These participants earn income while learning a great deal about the farm. Their contribution to the final harvest is instrumental. Eight interns, ten worker share participants, the farm manager and the farm assistant manager complete the workforce on this organic farm, which is largely cultivated and harvested by hand.
The only mechanical assistance is provided by a tractor, which is used for mowing and roto-tilling. Everything else, including pest control, is done by hand.

Of the farm’s ever-changing seasonal roster of farm hands, Claire Strader, Farm Manager since the farm’s inception says, “There’s a commitment to teaching and making sure people understand what’s going on. Over the years I’ve realized more and more that a huge part of my job is teaching and supervising the 16 high school students, eight interns, ten worker shares and new volunteers every year that are out here all the time and so, for me that’s a lot of repeating myself and really refining our systems so that people can understand them and helping [people] achieve accuracy and efficiency with those systems.”

Assistant Farm Manager (and co-housing resident), Jacob Hoeksma comments, “I think when I first came here I was struck by how much work is done by hand. It’s a little bit more of a hand-intensive system than I’ve been familiar with and my first reaction was ‘Whoa, we have to change that,’ and now I’m sort of understanding that, in a lot of ways, that it’s that way because we’re creating these opportunities for all these people that are here. And it really is special that so many get a chance to come learn and take part in what we’re doing.”

The farm stand

All those working on the farm are required to work at the CSA’s unique farm stand, located on Troy Drive on Thursdays from June through October where members pick up their weekly shares. Troy Farm offers an uncommon feature among CSAs. Shareholders “shop” their own weekly share from the farm stand instead of picking up a customary CSA share box, which is normally pre-packed with the week’s selection of vegetables. Instead, Troy Farm members are able to pick and choose from several organic varieties offered at the farm stand, which is set up similarly to a farmers’ market stand. For instance, they may have the choice of green beans or purple beans, green lettuce or red lettuce or a particular size of vegetable. Except for a handful of boxes that are packed, delivered, then picked up by shareholders at the Regent Market Co-op on Madison’s near Westside, all others are picked up directly from the farm. Claire says, “When farm members come to pick up their share, they interact with the people who are actually growing their food, which is good for them because we can answer questions about how the farm is doing, about how they could cook whatever it is they’ll be getting, about the things that they want to consider when they’re considering whatever vegetable it is they’ll be choosing. And it’s also great for us as the people who are growing the food, because we see the appreciation of the CSA members directly, face-to-face every week. I love that part of this farm. We’re in the city and we do our best to take advantage of that so that people can have an even closer connection to their food by visiting this property.”

Another unique aspect of Troy Community Farm is the special CSA garden, which grows flowers as well as annual and perennial herbs. CSA members can go to the farm every week and harvest a bouquet of flowers or pick fresh basil, oregano, sage or chives anytime they want.

Symbiosis

Symbiotically, each area of the land is intentionally, and sometimes unintentionally, benefiting from others. Troy Farm benefits especially from the prairie restoration and woodland areas on the property as Claire explains, “By having a natural area so close to [the farm], both the wooded areas and the open grass prairie area, we’ve got plants that grow there that will provide food for the beneficial insects. Beneficial insects are carnivores that eat bugs, not plants (typically, that’s their preferred diet) and so they will eat the herbivore bugs which are the ones that are eating our crops that we want to control. But they (bug eaters) don’t always have their preferred diet, so when there isn’t an insect for that beneficial insect to eat...then they will be able to eat certain types of flowers and other flowering crops (i.e., dill, carrot). In the prairie, we’ve got lots of those flowering plants where beneficial insects can find alternative food sources until they move their way out here at the farm to eat all of the bad bugs that we have.” Claire continues, “Also, we get birds living in these tree rows and some of them (the hawks) are interested in hunting the voles and mice that will eat our sweet potatoes and other crops out here. Another relationship that is newer that is really helpful to the farm is that there are people living here on this property now! This farm has sustained a certain amount of damage from vandals who have come out and tried to start our tractor, run it into our fence and broken off one of our poles, damaged the fence, broke the handle off the shed, so by having people who live out here, and walk their dogs out here, this place is more protected and so that is a real help to us as well.”

Challenges

The biggest challenge for Troy Farm seems to be the limitation of space to grow any more food than its current capacity of 110 shares. Claire notes that the farm reached its limit last year when, after struggling to provide enough organic vegetables for their CSA members and vending at the Northside and Eastside Farmers’ Markets, it was determined that they could no longer sustain both markets and still supply their shares. Troy Farm has since resolved to vend only to the Northside Farmers’ Market to ensure enough produce for their members.

Making use of the greenhouse on the farm, Claire says they’re working on ways to extend their fresh herb season without resorting to artificially heating the unit, but the sprouts will be available year-round and represent another sustainable element to the farm and it’s long-term success.

For more information

Check out their website at www.troygardens.org or stop by the farm at 500 Troy Drive in Madison.