Let It Grow (Locally): A Visit to Crawford Organics in Lancaster County, PA

From foodtank.com, by Alysha Melnyk
Let It Grow (Locally): A Visit to Crawford Organics in Lancaster County, PA

Known for its vast amount of local produce and successful farming industry, Lancaster County, PA, is the “Garden Spot of the Nation.” Although the majority of farms in Lancaster County practice conventional farming, the area has the highest density of organic farms in Pennsylvania. Lancaster County has more than 100 U.S.D.A.-certified organic farms, while many Pennsylvania counties have fewer than 25.

On February 24, 2015, Food Tank had the opportunity to visit Lancaster County’s Crawford Organics and speak with family farmer Jonathan Crawford. Crawford Organics has grown organic produce since 1998. Uncomfortable with the chemicals utilized in conventional farming, the Crawford family decided to start an organic farming operation. In 2002, Crawford Organics partnered with Paradise Organics to offer a full line of fresh, organic vegetables to wholesale markets.

Crawford Organics employs only naturally derived products to grow their crops. All minerals used to increase the nutrient content of their soil are in natural rock form, which then breaks down over time. Additionally, Crawford Organics utilizes no synthetic weed killers. Crawford noted the farm eliminates weeds with vinegar, corn gluten meal, hydrogen peroxide, microbial products, and propane instead.

Surprisingly, Crawford said the farm uses only an acre of land for growing crops. The operation cultivates organic produce in three greenhouses on the property; earlier on the day of Food Tank's visit, workers planted one building with lettuce, dandelion, cilantro, spinach, radishes, and bok choy. Crawford Organics’ spring growing season starts fairly early compared to the majority of farms in Lancaster County. In the unheated greenhouses, plastic tarps and heavy cloths cover plants to retain warmth. This environment allows the plants to thrive even in the frigid winter and temperamental spring months. Currently, Crawford Organics raises a variety of produce that includes potatoes, tomatoes, winter squash, broccoli, sweet corn, peppers, lettuce, watermelon, cabbage, carrots, beets, and garlic.

Crawford Organics sells their vegetables to wholesale markets, at farmers markets, and through three seasonal Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operations a year. CSA is a mutual relationship sustained between a local farm and the community. Members of the CSA pay a fee to the farm to cover the cost of food production, and then receive a weekly share of the harvest during growing seasons. The arrangement is mutualistic, guaranteeing the farmer financial support and providing the local community with fresh produce. Participation in a CSA can lead to a deeper understanding of the hard work, dedication, and passion it takes to produce quality food.

Crawford Organics would not survive without the support of the local community. There are many benefits of buying organic, local food directly from farmers. Not only do the small farms succeed, but consumers contribute to the local economy while their decreased demand cuts freight travel, preserving the environment, natural resources, and the shelf life and nutrients of the food. Most produce in the United States hits supermarket shelves four to seven days after picking, and travels for an average of 1,500 miles before selling; farms like Crawford Organics harvest the day before distribution. There is an urgent need for energy-efficient agriculture methods, like smaller-scale, local organic agriculture. As farmer-philosopher Masanobu Fukuoka once wrote, “The simple hearth of the small farm is the true center of our universe.” It takes a community to support a small farming operation, and a devoted farm to provide fresh, local produce for a community.

To view Crawford Organics’ CSA options, please click here