Audacious, haphazard, foolish and lunatic are some of the words Mark and Kristin Kimball said have been used to describe their farm cooperative in Essex, NY. But there’s another word for their farm: successful.
Besides using organic methods and draft horse power, their farm economics set them apart. Their 200 cooperative members are allowed a “sliding scale” to pay what they can of the $3,300 yearly share price. Members are also allowed to take as much or as little from the farm as they see fit under the agreement that they won’t share with neighbors or horde more than is fair.
They said their goal is produce enough to offer members all-you-can-eat, full-diet shares with comparable choices to traditional groceries. Kristin said some members make a point of taking all their calories from the farm, while others use the farm to supplement their supermarket purchases.
Mark said if a member can’t afford the share price, they make an affordable deal face to face; asking how much they are able to pay, expecting an honest answer and shaking hands on it. “One of the fun parts about being a farmer is watching how people relate to money,” Mark said in Eben Holden on Wednesday. “One of the benefits of this model is that day to day cash thinking is minimal compared to most other types of buying food.
“Because I know my budget and the membership for the year, I don’t look at any of my crops as a dollar value,” Mark said. “That separation of cash and food has been one of the most fundamentally exciting parts from a farm perspective and I think members feel the same way.”
The Kimball’s are also formulating ideas for a hands-on, competitive farming academy – sometimes reffered to as farming Olympics and other times as the NASA of farm schools – that would improve the body of knowledge on organic, fossil-fuel free methods. One of the basic concepts, Mark said, is that farmers are “brokers between people and the sun.”
Kristin, who used to be a writer in New York City, wrote a book about her transition to the farming with her husband called The Dirty Life. The couple came to St. Lawrence to visit classes, talk about sustainability, read excerpts from the book and talk on-air with Professor Mary Hussmann for North Country Public Radio.