Stephen and Gloria Decater are the founders and operators of Live Power Community Farm, a 40-acre diversified biodynamic 100 percent community-based farm in Mendocino County, California. The farm’s member-supported CSA is now in its 26th season, providing food for 200 households in Mendocino County and the San Francisco Bay Area. Steve and Gloria host on-farm school class visits and maintain an apprentice program for five to seven apprentices each season. Since 1980, they have been using draft horses for soil tillage, garden cultivation, and general fieldwork. Water pumping and other electrical power needs are supplied by an 18kw photovoltaic system. They came to the land originally as caretakers and in 1995, with the help of their member community, they created and placed a specialized shared equity agricultural conservation easement on their farm which dedicates the land permanently to active biological farming use and ties its resale value to farming income level — keeping it affordable to future generations of farmers.
Douglas Gayeton: Does your CSA members help you decide what to grow each season?
Stephen Decater: Absolutely. We have meetings a couple of times a year and that is one of the topics we discuss. We also do surveys, have comment ability on our website so people can give us feedback, and when we're distributing we ask people directly what's working and what isn't. We can absolutely change the planting plan according to what people want.
Douglas Gayeton: One criticism people have of CSAs is that they end up with a lot of one type of produce, like turnips or broccoli, which they either don't know how to use in the kitchen or simply just don't like. How do you address that?
Stephen Decater: We succession plant every two weeks. For instance, during spring you can grow the cool weather crops, such as radishes. If we want to have the right amount over the whole window of time, we plant 25 feet of radishes every two weeks, and that yields a constant stream of radishes that are coming right to harvest. If we get our planning down, we can achieve up to 6 radishes in a bunch each week for quite a period of time.
People also have to be taught about cooking, because they may be unfamiliar with some vegetables— but we grow 35 different vegetable crops in a succession-planting model.
Douglas Gayeton: Sometimes farmers become educators, and CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) are great for showing people that certain foods are available in certain seasons of the year. The concept of eating within each season requires educating consumers to understand that you don't get tomatoes in November.
Stephen Decater: It is possible to eat a diet that’s seasonal and to have quite a bit of variation. The fact that you don't get tomatoes in May just means that when they do appear they are really exciting. You can change your recipes, change your cooking, and enjoy that season and the qualities that come from that time of year.