Fewer Hands Leads To Healthier Food

Shallow Brooke Farm’s Eric Keene says small ways work better, even with a big CSA

By Annie Young

Eric Keene of Shallow Brooke Farm is down to earth. Literally, he is grounded in his work of farming the soil and doing it with practicality. He uses seventeen years of experience to grow vegetables for his large Community Supported Agriculture garden and Berryville Farmers Market. He does it as organically and efficiently as possible using the best methods that his tenure as a farmer has taught him. “I’m a practical person, and I farm for a living” said Keene. His practice has evolved over the years in a field in which it is difficult to become established or successful. But with a five hundred-member Community Supported Agriculture program or CSA, Keene is making a success out of farming, humble as he is about it.

Keene found that the CSA model with home deliveries was the best way for his farm to reach customers in the Northern Virginia area where markets are competitive. He says it is the safest, most efficient and most convenient—as well as the best way to make sure deliveries are consistent. The vegetables are harvested, washed, and delivered all within 48 hours. Deliveries cover all of Northern Virginia and into Maryland and D.C. It is not easy driving his refrigerated delivery truck up to three times a week delivering boxes of produce to customers’ doorsteps, he says. But how delightful it would be to wake up with a local, fresh produce box to greet you in the morning still cool and crisp from harvest and cooler to you.

Shallow Brooke has a 20-week season. The deliveries start in the third week of May, which is later than some farms. But Keene wants to make sure that his customers have a diverse, full share. He would rather wait and fill a box with fresh seasonal vegetables than have a skimpy start to the season. “The worst thing is to come out weak.” Keene knows his customers trust him, and he does not take that lightly.

The CSA program lasts until the first week of October. The website includes a thorough list of the vegetables in the CSA and available at market. It is difficult to think of a vegetable that is not included on their projected harvest list. They source apples from a local orchard. They even have milk available from Mt. Crawford Creamery, which is the only dairy in the state to process their own milk. Baked goods are also available through the CSA or at the Berryville Market. “We bake bread using basic recipes that we eat and enjoy ourselves,” said Keene. A late fall CSA was added last year, in which a smaller group of customers was supplied vegetables until Christmas.

The farm’s website is full of farm photographs and videos. Cheryl Skinner, Eric Keene’s partner, adds her own hard work and artistic eye to the website and market stand. Her colorful photographs tour you through the farm and seasons. You can almost hear the birds singing in the trees surrounding the fields. Recipes are also available on the website or on their Facebook page.

Eric Keene believes we should know our farmer in the same way we choose  and trust doctors, dentists, mechanics and hairdressers. If we want to know what goes into our bodies and homes, he asks, shouldn’t we apply the same to the food we eat?

As busy as farmers can be in season, I have yet to meet one that won’t drop their hoe to talk about how they grow their food. Keene believes that type of commitment to customers is nearly as important as what he grows. When customers contact him, he personally calls back to address their questions or concerns. He talks and explains farming philosophy. “Knowing your farmer is the key to healthy food,” Keene says. “There area a lot fewer hands between you and me than when you buy at a grocery store.” It is practical and simple, and that is just the way Eric Keene does things.


For information: Shallowbrooke Farm LLC, 773 Old Winchester Rd. • Boyce, VA 22620, www.shallowbrookefarm.com.