Community-supported agriculture in Damascus

By TOM KANE

Josephine “Jo” Clearwater is a renaissance farmer.

She is also an educator, environmentalist, nutritionist, soil expert, cook, nurse, humanitarian, business owner, organizer, wife, mother of four and member of the Damascus Township Zoning Hearing Board.

In addition to all that, Clearwater, 48, is beginning to develop what is called a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program on her 32-acre farm on Diehl Road in Damascus Township. A CSA allows people to share in the produce of the farm and to spend time working on it.

“People need to get back to the soil and have a connection to the earth,” Clearwater said.

People who become members or shareholders for a fee receive a bushel of produce each week during the 20-week growing season, she said. “All our produce is organic and very varied.” The fee is $500 for the season. Members can pay a portion in the beginning and the rest as the season progresses. “Having money at the beginning of the season is a real help,” she said. By eliminating the middleman, the CSA makes our produce cheaper, she said

An alternative membership is also available in which a member pays $250 and works on the farm four hours a week.

Connection to the earth

While the production of crops is the program’s primary purpose, a critical part of Clearwater’s CSA is connecting members to the earth and giving them a chance to be a part of agriculture. Members can help harvest every Friday if they are available. “Most people work on Fridays so I offer them the chance to work on the farm four or five days during the summer,” she said.

Clearwater thinks that people are incredibly stressed today in their work and in their leisure. “Being in contact with the land and handling the earth has a way of relaxing people,” she said. “I’m also trying to show people how varied agriculture can be and turn them from the dairy mind-set,” she said.

Alternative Agriculture

“Jo has been a part of a small group of farmers who are trying to develop some alternative agriculture practices,” said David Messersmith, Extension Agent of the Wayne County Cooperative Extension. “What she is doing is two things: first, she’s involving the community in agriculture and, second, she’s developing a niche with her organic products. Organic is the fastest developing area in agriculture today and she’s right in the middle of it. It’s great to see a Wayne County farmer filling this need.”

A teaching farmer

Working with her full-time are two interns, Deacon Hedgelon, 24, and his sister McKenzie, 19. “I am very fortunate to have these excellent young people who want to learn more about soils, healing plants and this kind of farming,” Clearwater said. “There aren’t enough young people who want to work to preserve the earth. This is where my love of teaching comes in handy.”

As a licensed practical nurse, Clearwater has specialized in hospice nursing and provides hospice care in her home for her father-in-law’s sister, who is in her 80s. “We have to care for the elderly, care for youth, care for the earth, care for what we eat and care for what we grow,” she said. “It’s a synergy that works for the good of all—the universe and everybody and everything in it.”

During the summer, she holds classes in product identification, in proper methods of cooking, in nutrition and will have a yoga teacher on the farm on a regular basis.

“Food affects our bodies,” she said. “We all have the seeds of cancer in us, they say, but eating the wrong foods and living a life of tension pushes our buttons and can kill us.”

Unconventional farming

Besides crops, Clearwater has free-ranging chickens, two cows, a steer and several registered goats. “My goats have a bloodline and a pedigree,” she said. The animals are a boon to the farm by means of their manure. “Our farm is self-sustaining. We waste nothing,” she said.

Clearwater’s farm is very unconventional. “Conventional farms have mono-crops—one crop per field,” she said. Her farm has a wide variety of crops that grow in close proximity and possesses a synergy in which one crop gives vigor to another. “Marigolds are next to tomatoes that are next to basil that are next to lettuce,” she said. She wants people to realize this as they experience her farm.

For more information call 570/224-7687.

TRR photo by Tom Kane
Jo Clearwater, right, prepares for the growing season with her farm interns McKenzie and Deacon Hedgelon. (Click for larger version)