What should have been a bountiful season filled with fresh organic produce and fruit for the Phillies Bridge Farm Project (PBFP), has come to an abrupt and fruitless end.
During a shareholder’s meeting last Thursday, a decision by the PBFP board ended the organization’s 2013 community-supported agriculture (CSA) program, terminated its farm managers and accepted the resignation of its executive director Donna Eis.
In a letter sent to the project’s 180 shareholders, board secretary Edie Sherman cited several reasons for ending the season, including “personnel problems, insect/rodent infestation, equipment breakdowns, soil inadequacies from overuse and infrastructure weaknesses.”
The board stated that there would be “nominal refunds” made to the shareholders who pay on average $500 per growing season and upwards of $700 if they have additional shares for corn and fruit. They stated that it would be approximately $100 per shareholder.
The 65-acre farm has served as a model for the past 16 years on how to operate a successful CSA. It provided a strong educational component that included training farmers, internships, camps for children, programs for local schools, as well as a farm-to-table program that worked with local agencies to provide fresh produce to those in need.
Several PBFP members expressed shock and frustration about the decision, saying that they had no idea this was coming and wondered why it wasn’t dealt with prior to reaching a boiling point where operations had to be halted and shares lost.
“Last year it was great,” said shareholder Allison Bennett. “I had so much with each pick up that I would give extra produce to friends and neighbors. This year started out okay, but for the past three weeks there hasn’t been anything to pick up. I’m disgusted by what’s happened. It’s certainly unfair to the shareholders. The letter we received didn’t explain what happened, or why issues were not addressed earlier. We could all understand a natural disaster or a crop gone bad, but they were selling shares to Brooklyn residents and telling local residents that they had no more shares to buy? That’s not in the spirit of a CSA.”
One of the big stresses was the board’s decision to allow newly hired farm managers Amoreen Armetta and Tierney Medick to provide CSA shares to Brooklyn residents — approximately 60 shares.
“In retrospect, that was not a good choice,” said David Gilmour, a local community planner and treasurer for the PBFP. “We did not realize the stress logistically and organizationally those shares would have on our staff and on our farm. They spent a lot of time travelling, loading up the truck and making deliveries to Brooklyn, which took an indirect toll on our operations here.”
That, in combination with a poor fundraising year, some crops not coming through and “many things happening all at the same time, led us to the decision to cease farm operations and terminate our farm managers in the hopes of regrouping, strategizing and planning for next year,” Gilmour said.
Traditionally, the board had upwards of 16 people volunteering to shepherd the not-for-profit organization, but this year it was down to six members. “We’re a working board, meaning that we all have full-time jobs and despite the enormous amount of time we all put into being board members, the organization requires more,” said Gilmour.
He said that the main mission of Phillies Bridge will continue to be education and that with a recent $10,000 grant from the Dyson Foundation, he hopes that the board can do some “strategic planning to get us back on track.”