Whippoorwill Farm CSA moves back home

Andrew Woodruff is optimistic about moving his CSA back to Whippoorwill Farm. — Photo by Tony Omer

Whippoorwill Farm Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), a private farming co-operative led by West Tisbury farmer Andrew Woodruff, will open for business for the 2013 season soon, with ambitious plans to improve service and diversify its offerings.

The CSA will offer locally grown chicken for the first time and plans to re-establish a U-pick operation for flowers and some vegetables. A limited number of shares are available on the Whippoorwill website.

CSAs allow people to invest in the production of the food they buy. CSA members pay at the onset of the growing season for a share of the anticipated harvest. Once harvesting begins, they receive weekly shares of produce.

The Whippoorwill CSA has moved back to the farm owned by Mr. Woodruff on Old County Road in West Tisbury where it began in 1992, after eight years at Thimble Farm.

The sale of Thimble Farm to the Island Grown Initiative (IGI), after a failed attempt by a group led by the CSA to purchase the property last year, forced CSA back to its original home.

“We started the move back last summer, and we completed the move this winter,” said Mr. Woodruff. “It is nice to be back on my farm, and it is nice to be back on the roadside on Old County Road.”

The Mr. Woodruff has been farming most of his life. Now 50 years old, he is the father of a 14-year-old girl and a 17-year-old boy, both students at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School.

He recalls helping plant a family garden soon after his family moved to the Island, when he was five. He was selling his own produce at the West Tisbury Farmers Market by the time he was 12. He earned an associate’s degree from the University of Massachusetts, Stockbridge, studying fruits and vegetables. His father, Robert, is an Island conservationist.

Under Mr. Woodruff’s direction, the CSA is making major renovations to the 8.3-acre property. They are taking down several old buildings, rebuilding the irrigation system and fences and plan to enhance the farmstand.

“We are setting up the property to be a real functional farm again. We hadn’t used it in approximately eight years,” he said. “The land has a long history of being used as farmland, but some of the land has reverted back to woodland over the years. We will have about four to four and a half acres of tillable land here.” Mr. Woodruff said he has a lease on another 20 acres of land in West Tisbury that he is cultivating as well.

Mr. Woodruff recently sold an agricultural preservation restriction to the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank on 4.5 acres of his 8.3 acres. The restriction will allow him to retain ownership of the land, while placing limitations on development for him and future owners.

“Our goal is to do a better job for our membership than we have done in the past,” Mr. Woodruff said. “I plan to plant a little bit of everything this summer. We also plan to re-establish the ‘U-pick’ operation by planting flowers, tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, strawberries, and raspberries.” The strawberries and raspberries won’t be ready for a year, he added.

So far, there are four employees lined up for the summer. Two are young, aspiring farmers, he said. One, Gideon Spykman, is growing Cornish rock chickens on Whippoorwill pasture. The chicken will be a first-time CSA offering and will be separate from the all vegetable CSA shares, according to Mr. Woodruff.

There will be more variety in the size of the share options offered than in past years. There are five-, 10-, and 20-plus-week options for both small and large vegetable shares. Shares in the chicken CSA will be offered for two-, four-, and eight-periods, with pick-up during the same time as the vegetable CSA pick-up — Tuesday and Friday, 10 am to 6 pm, at the farmstand on Old County Road.

According to the CSA website, small shares are suitable for one or two people while large shares are suitable for families of three or more. The prices range from $220 to $895. Chicken shares range from $50 to $200. Shares may be purchased on the group’s website. Mr. Woodruff said he is willing to trade work for shares as well.

“We will have a more diversified farm this year, with more diversified distribution,” Mr. Woodruff said. In addition to the CSA, he plans to sell both more retail and wholesale produce than in rercent years.

The retail farm stand will be open most days of the week through the summer for the public. “We will be adding an addition to the farm stand and perhaps building a second building all by summer. It’s going to be a very busy spring on the farm,” he said.

For more information, go to whippoorwillfarmcsa.com.