When you were a kid your mother probably spent the dinner hour telling you to “eat your vegetables” – an unappetizing proposition since they were usually over-cooked and under-flavored – the result of being harvested unripe and shipped long distances to be mass marketed in a grocery store. Farmer Lily Schneider of Shooting Star CSA wants to eliminate this maternal nagging by introducing East Bay kids to locally grown, organic vegetables. Once they experience the intense flavor of a real tomato, the crisp sunny taste of a fresh green bean, or the dessert-sweet juiciness of a sun-grown watermelon, kids will be more willing to dig into the nourishing, nutritionally dense vegetables on the dinner plate.
Shooting Star CSA is a 10-acre, CCOF-certified organic farm located in the Suisun Valley in Fairfield and is owned and operated by Lily and her farming-partner and boyfriend Matthew (Matt) Mccue. Their mission is to provide customers with the tastiest and freshest vegetables and melons they can grow. As the Shooting Star website says: “Top quality is our pride, and growing is our joy”!
“The most rewarding part of farming for me is the connection our members have with the farm,” says Lily. “I love hearing what people do with the vegetables, and getting recipes from them that we put in our weekly newsletter for the CSA boxes.”
Lily learned to farm by working at different farms around California while studying sustainable agriculture at U.C. Santa Cruz. Each farm had a different way of growing crops so it was a varied and beneficial learning experience. Plus, there was the additional perk of meeting Matt, who was an apprentice at the UCSC farm at the time.
Lily and Matt started farming at Shooting Star in 2009 after searching Northern California for a suitable site. They chose the Suisun Valley for its sycamore slity clay loam soil and warm summer climate that help produce the most flavorful vegetables and sun-sweetened melons. But they also wanted to be close enough to the Bay Area to deliver their produce at the peak of its form but still maintain an acceptably small carbon footprint.
“When we started our farm, we knew very little about running a business. Both of us had enough farming experience farming to grow plenty of great vegetables for our CSA, but we did a lot of learning to figure out how to run the business side of the farm and successfully market our product.”
Obviously they learned well because they now have a loyal following of CSA members who sign up for the annual 28-week Full Harvest Season that delivers what one happy member calls “a generously packed box of magic” to drop points throughout the East Bay and San Francisco. “It’s amazing to think how many families our farm is feeding, just on 15 acres,” says Lily. “One of the special things about our CSA program is that all of the produce in the boxes comes directly from our farm, so our members know exactly where their food is coming from and who harvested it.”
One of Lily’s secrets to successful farming is careful crop planning:
“Because of our CSA program, we plan to have at least 10 or 11 crops ready to harvest at any given time. This allows us at least 7 or 8 items for the boxes each week, taking into account crops that haven’t done well because of weather or pest problems. We do succession plantings for almost all of our crops — the basic idea is if you are continually planting, then you will always have something to harvest.”
What future plans are in store for Shooting Star CSA?
“We are adding five acres to our production this season, and expanding our CSA program to go along with that. We are also growing lots of sweet corn, tomatoes, and peppers for the farmers’ market.”
And in the immediate future Lily is busy planning the 2nd Annual Shooting Star CSA Open House & Strawberry Shortcake Fest, scheduled for Saturday, May 7, 2011 at the farm. Visitors can bring their families to see where their food is grown, meet the farmers, and take a walk through the fields. There will be lots of cold drinks, face painting, a kids’ area and, of course, plenty of strawberry shortcake!
Lily is one of the new-style organic farmers who consider local food security a civic duty and learn from the land by nurturing the soil and treating it as a living system rather than just a resource to be used for business purposes. Consider getting out to Shooting Star CSA and meeting two of the people who are helping East Bay families eat healthy and local. As Lily says:
“It’s going to be a great season!”