At the Charlestown Cooperative Farm, alumna Aimee Kocis is helping preserve valuable farmland from development while keeping 105 area families well supplied with a variety of fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables. By Nancy Moffitt

 

Under a mid-summer sun, Aimee Kocis C’99 drags a large cart heaped with muddy lumps up to the bank barn, parking it on a concrete pad near the pump. The diminutive Kocis, girlish in her pigtails, begins to unload and hose off the mass, as bunches of scarlet beets; snowy, purple-topped turnips; and egg-shaped radishes emerge from under the loam. She carries the vegetables inside the cool barn, filling rows of wooden boxes that will be emptied and refilled dozens of times throughout the day.

Kocis, 27, is a farmer. With her fiancé, John Good, Kocis founded Charlestown Cooperative Farm three years ago in a suburban Philadelphia township known for its pastoral horse farms, fieldstone farmhouses, and increasingly, land-development struggles. Kocis and Good, and the 105 local families they keep in vegetables from June to November, are part of a growing national movement called Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). A concept that began in Japan 30 years ago, CSA farms, through their “shareholders,” are guaranteed the financial support and market to succeed. Members, in turn, receive an abundance of fresh, local, largely organic produce while also helping to maintain a local farm—and keep the land it sits on from development.

“Farming is very creative and independent,” Kocis says. “At times it’s hard because everything rests upon you, but at the same time it inspires you to be thinking all the time and creating new ways to do things. It’s very satisfying work—it’s addictive. How many jobs can you come home to your own house every day to have lunch?”

Kocis’s decision to become a farmer is as much about cause as it is about lifestyle. The CSA movement is all about the politics of food, about boosting local economies via increased local food production, saving the nation’s best farmland from residential and commercial development, and helping small- to moderate-scale organic family farms stay in business. Kocis bristles when she hears people refer to organic farming as “alternative,” pointing out that pesticide use in agriculture began only in the 1940s, when chemical companies began searching for new markets after the war ended. “What’s now called traditional agriculture—chemical agriculture—isn’t traditional at all,” Kocis says. “What’s traditional is what’s been going on for generations before this—small family farms that support the local economy, not massive agri-businesses.”

But the traditional family farm is rapidly becoming an endangered species. Soaring land and production costs, low food prices, and rising property taxes make farming an increasingly tough sell to those young enough to carry it on. On average, experts say, about 65 cents of every dollar spent on food goes to packaging, delivery, and marketing, while 30 cents goes to the chemical companies that make fertilizers, pesticides, and genetically modified foods. That leaves just five cents for the farmer.

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2004 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 08/27/04

FEATURE: Growing Movement
By Nancy Moffitt
Photography by Sabina Louise Pierce

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