The fields at Snipes Farm and Education Center in Morrisville seemed barren last week, but they won’t remain that way for long.
Behind the scenes, farmers have been gearing up for growing season by planting the first seedlings. Soon, the soil will be worked and those seedlings will take root on the grounds of the sixth-generation family farm.
“It’s a breathtaking moment, the beginning of the season. It’s such a tremendous opportunity to feed hundreds of people clean, organically-grown food,” Melanie Douty-Snipes said. “We’re just about to start the marathon.”
Douty-Snipes is the volunteer coordinator and works on the education staff at Snipes. She’s also a member of the Snipes family. “Working with all the cosmic forces to grow food,” as she puts it, doesn’t come easy, but it follows an ethic close to the mission of Snipes Farm: sustainability.
That’s why the educational component is so important to the staff. In the spring, there are field trips with local students from kindergarten through 12th grade where they do habitat and ecosystem studies, learn about local and global farming issues and more. There are partnerships with school gardens at Grandview Elementary and Valley Day School in Morrisville and Lawrenceville Elementary in New Jersey. Adults can take classes in beekeeping, fermentation, gardening and other practices.
Douty-Snipes said the program with the “deepest impact” is the summer camps, where kids 5 to 12 years old can enroll for week-long or multiple-week day camps.
“We recycle, we compost, we care for animals, we care for gardens,” Douty-Snipes said. “They do real work. They help the farmers. It’s life skills.”
It’s one of the many ways the 150-acre farm seeks to bring “ecological balance” to an area in Bucks County that’s surrounded by two highways and a town. Another aspect important to this goal is finding a connection with the community.
In past seasons, Snipes has done this through its community supported agriculture program (CSA), in which supporters help cover a piece of the farm’s yearly operating budget by buying a “share” of the season’s harvest. These are picked up weekly or biweekly by shareholders.
“Most people see the value in that, some people don’t because they don’t eat every vegetable we grow,” Shaun O’Brien, a farmer at Snipes, said.
That’s why Snipes introduced a new program this year. It’s similar to the CSA, but gives members options. In the new Market Share model, members can choose to prepay for the $400 level or $700 dollar level and choose the vegetables they want, earning bonuses for paying early. Using a member card, much like a prepaid debit card, Snipes can deduct the market price of each item from members’ balance when they come to pick up either Thursdays at the farm or Saturdays at the Yardley Farmers Market.
“A lot of people had problems with going on vacation and missing out,” O’Brien said. “Now they can go on vacation two weeks in a row and won’t miss anything. They still have their balance. It makes it easier for them.”
The program also has benefits for Snipes. Farmers will better be able to gauge what people like and perhaps adapt what they grow and in what quantities for future seasons.
Still, Snipes Farm supporters and workers might say the advantages of participating in these types of programs reach beyond the tangibles. Learning where food comes from, interacting with animals on the farm like chickens or goats, seeing and having a role in supporting a farm in a world where open space is disappearing, it creates a connection to the natural systems that support human life.
Like the land itself, that’s a message Snipes hopes to sustain.
For information on the education and market share programs at Snipes Farm and Education Center, visit www.snipesfarm.org.