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Fostering Sustainability and Innovation in Agriculture

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Despite Fuzz Around the Edges, Bucks County Sustainable Farm Reaches Cruising Altitude

August 14, 2012 |

Basil and tomatoes at Blooming Glen Farm. Photo: Blooming Glen Farm

For Tom Murtha and Tricia Borneman, of Perkasie, Pa.’s Blooming Glen Farm, farming came to them as a natural fit. Although they did not come from farming backgrounds and they both grew up in the suburbs, (Murtha is from New Jersey and Borneman is from Bucks County, Pa) they embraced organic farming as something that perfectly reflected their interests and philosophy on life. “We were trying to find something that we could do together and that spoke to our values, and farming fit the bill,” Murtha says.

Since 2000, the couple has worked on organic farms in Connecticut, Oregon, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. When the pair lived in Oregon, and traveled back to the East Coast to visit family, they realized that there was a great deal of untapped farming potential in Bucks County. So, they moved back to the East Coast, started Blooming Glen Farm in 2006, and in their first year, organized a CSA.

Murtha and Borneman rent their 40 acres from a family who owns and has preserved a neighboring farm. And, they grow just about everything on the land. “If it is a vegetable that can be grown in Southeastern Pennsylvania, we grow it,” says Murtha. In recent weeks, CSA members have enjoyed organically grown heirloom tomatoes, poblano peppers, head lettuce, swiss chard, summer squash, cantaloupe, cucumbers, beets and edamame to name a few. In the coming weeks and months, their CSA boxes will be filled with other produce such as brocooli, cabbage, carrots, sweet potatoes, winter squash and bok choy.

With sustainability, health and taste in mind, Blooming Glen Farm grows their crops without the use of GMOs, synthetic fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides. Instead, they nurture what is arguably the most important aspect of farming: the soil. “Our philosophy on the farm is to manage the soil in such a way that it helps the overall growing process,” he explains. As part of this, the farm crew—consisting of five full-time employees, a handful of revolving door part-time workers and some volunteers—uses compost, cover crops, mulch and crop rotation to support and nurture the soil. They have recently started using less compost, however, because it was increasing the phosphorus levels in the soil. To control the ph levels of the soil, they have also been using lime and gypsum. “We’re starting to see a return on that management practice,” Murtha asserts. In addition, the farm has created a small ecosystem on their land, which includes diverse plants, birds and pollinators. “The things we are doing are definitely showing us good results,” he says.

While they use organic farming practices, the farm is not certified organic. “We have opted not to get certified,” says Murtha. “The real value of third party certification is for when food travels long distances. We’re meeting our customers and they know what their source is.

“‘Certified organic’ is going through a real identity crisis, because it is becoming very large, very quickly,” he explains. “[The food industry] finds marketing value in the word ‘organic’, because the organic movement has gotten so large so quickly. There’s going to be a certain dilution of the word. It becomes something watered down to cater to the larger interest instead of the grassroots movement that got it off of the ground and out of the gate.”

But sustainability is only one part of the equation for Blooming Glen Farm. Contributing to the local movement and reaching out to members of their local community has been as integral in their business as their farming practices. Borneman runs a blog on their Website, where CSA members can view photos of each week’s share, along with the name of the crop next to each item pictured. “Some people wanted to know in advance what they were getting so they could plan ahead, and others were simply curious as to what some of the produce was,” he says. They also provide updates on the farm and recipe suggestions for the produce that CSA members receive. In addition, the farm offers events, such as canning classes and seminars on making flower bouquets.

Within six years, Murtha and Borneman have grown the farm very rapidly, so much so that they spend the winter bookkeeping, budgeting, growing its labor force and ordering seeds. And, its CSA has grown more than threefold since their first year in business; they did 100 shares in their first year, and this year they are at 380 shares. While the CSA makes up about two-thirds of Blooming Glen Farm’s income, they do very well at three farmers’ markets during the week: Headhouse Farmers’ Market in downtown Philadelphia, Wrightstown Farmers’ Market and Easton Farmers’ Market. “That’s been a big area of growth for us,” Murtha says.

As for conventional farms adapting a sustainable, organic process, Murtha believes that it is not as out of reach as many believe. “I think the biggest hurdle to all that stuff is mindset. I don’t think it is because of finances,” he explains. “Farmers are hard workers and have a variety of skill sets. What they do is not that radically different than what we do. I think what it really comes down to is a lot of farmers don’t want to have a couple of weeds hanging around. Our farm kind of has a beard. We don’t let weeds go to seed, but the farm is a little fuzzy around the edges.”

As for the future, Blooming Glen Farm has reached what Murtha calls “cruising altitude”, where they are enjoying their success with nothing major to invest in or to change on the farm. “One thing we can always work on though is becoming better managers. We didn’t become farmers to be managers, but that goes right along with it,” he says. “But, right now, we just want to keep getting better at a lot of the things we’re already doing.”

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