By Erika Steele, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is not easy bidding, but Beth and Peter Hook have come to love growing fresh vegetables year round, and the fulfillment of providing them to appreciative community members.
It should not come as a surprise that the husband and wife pair own a CSA location on Green Street in Shrewsbury. Beth grew up in Southborough among sheep and horses and recalls fond memories of her grandfather's poultry farm and days spent harvesting in her father's garden.? Peter bears blood ties to the farm since his father purchased the land in 1949 and operated as a dairy farmer for the next 30 years.
When Beth and Peter took over, they raised beef cattle and chicken as a leisurely hobby. It was not until 1996 that the farm was transformed into a CSA and, though eggs are still sold and cattle still raised, their passion gravitated towards produce.
“We wanted to do more agriculture,” said Beth, noting that they managed the farm while she worked as a physical therapist and Peter was a school teacher.
Years passed, decades turned, and the Hooks learned how to best manage the challenges that accompany a CSA. Though they always seem to gather up enough interested shareholders to consume their output, less than ideal weather conditions have been ongoing issues.
Explaining that 2013 was too wet for in the plants early development, Beth said “I'se never seen a season when plants just don's grow. Some failed and some are smaller.”
Unfortunately for the Hooks, weather is not something they can predict or change. Still, the one thing they can control, they do. While most CSA's do not provide refunds due to weather, the Hooks will if they feel the produce is not up to par.
“We had to refund some of their share money this year because things were just so lacking.? It's not the way we operate.”
How they do operate is by adapting. With the system down to a science, farm duties are delegated between Peter, Beth, and one part-time employee, just enough to serve the farm's 25-30 members.
“We have a small enough group that we can handle things on our own,” she shared, saying that she handles the harvesting and pick-up days while Peter and their employee till, seed, and weed. “We'se fallen into our own duties. It's been 16 or so years so we'se got it now.”
Shareholders have favorite vegetables and they are those than grow nicely in New England should the weather cooperate: tomatoes, corn, and the colorful Swiss chard. Potatoes surprise people the most in how good they are compared to a grocery store potato.
“People think potatoes are potatoes but the ones right from the garden are really good and people don's expect that,” said Beth.
Other staples they grow include broccoli, carrots, beets, peppers, eggplant, celery, leeks, onions, lettuce, kale, pumpkins, and winter squash, Beth's personal favorite. In the springtime strawberries are in full bloom with raspberries following in autumn.
It is no wonder there is such a selection of vegetables since it is what Beth says she is most passionate about growing and most proud of to distribute.
“There's nothing more enjoyable than walking through a garden in August when everything is in full force,” she started. “It is so exciting and miraculous to see all that food when you consider that I start the process in January ordering seeds and plant them inside a greenhouse in February.? I get attached to them.”
What is her second favorite thing about operating a CSA? Exercise. Beth credits her and her husband's strong physiques to those hours spent in the garden.
The Hooks have also been selling firewood out of their home for the past 40 years which brings in more income but not nearly as much joy.