What a pleasure to be invited to tour a very special farm to meet with Eric Vander Hyde and Linda Shanahan, husband and wife, farmers and proprietors of Barefoot Gardens, a vibrant CSA community in Doylestown. Barefoot Gardens grows vegetables, flowers, and culinary and medicinal herbs. They produce enough to not only serve their CSA members, but also to sell at the local farmers market, and lucky for us, the Doylestown Food Co-op.
Community is the touchstone of Eric and Linda’s business and personal lives. Eric says, “It’s community that creates a sense of place and stability where people live and we are committed to our dedicated community who love to eat and cook wholesome foods.” Linda adds, “Even those who do not ever step foot in a garden but are going to the farmers market and co-op to help maintain their connection to healthy food is worth supporting.”
Barefoot Gardens is in its eigth growing season and has been growing organically for all eight seasons. However, it is only this summer that the paperwork is being submitted to the US Department of Agriculture for official certification. I've learned from talking with other farmers, and Eric and Linda have confirmed this, there’s a lot of time, record keeping, and cost involved in receiving the official organic certification.
So how did it all begin? How did one couple, an engineer and registered nurse by formal education, decide to become farmers and start the first CSA farm in Bucks County? Linda begins, “We had a back yard garden and produced tons of food for our family, neighbors, and friends. A year after we moved back to Bucks County from Eugene, Oregon, we had an idea to start a farm and fill a need.” Eric joins in, “I had a small farm dream. I worked for a big corporation; I enjoyed doing what I did; and I didn’t want to be trapped in an office five days a week. I wanted a connection to community.” And how does Eric feel about his small farm dream eight years into it? “Farming is fun, exciting, overwhelming, challenging, inspiring. It’s total mayhem and total beauty. That’s life – any job, profession, relationship – there are good days and bad days.”
The couple learned a lot in the beginning from attending a one-year biodynamic training course, and continued to learn by participating in conferences, reading books, and meeting with other farmers. Eric added, “The farming community is a close-knit community. We’re in competition with each other but helpful to each other.”
With her knowledge of and experience with traditional medicinal plants and herb production, Linda is now collaborating with a local clinical herbalist to teach a series of “Herbs Through the Seasons” classes as part of Barefoot Botanicals, an offshoot of Barefoot Gardens, in her very sweet herb studio on the farm.
In so many ways community is the bedrock that supported one couple in learning how to farm, and allowed Barefoot Gardens to come into being, as well as to continue to flourish. “When we started we didn’t know what we were doing. Our CSA members helped us. We wouldn’t have the farm without our members. Our members put up the fence; they weeded; they were there anytime we needed anything.”
When you meet farmers Linda and Eric in person, you immediately “know” this couple is all about community. Eric’s closed our meeting by noting that “Lifestyle sacrifices have to be made but there’s a huge benefit: our connection with the community. When I watch a child eat a sweet pepper and see their eyes light up – that’s precious. When I see and hear the genuine appreciation of CSA members for the food being received – that is super amazing!“
You will have two opportunities to meet Linda and Eric at the Co-op and sample their tomatoes and seasonal greens: Sunday, Aug 2, 2:30 – 4:30, and Thursday, Aug 20, 4:30 – 6:30.