As the sun rises over the Hudson Valley, Roxbury Farm comes to life. Sheep meander through the fields alongside Kinderhook Creek. Bees buzz about while farmers take to the fields to pick vegetables. Roxbury farm unfolds across 400 acres in Upstate New York; from the highest point, you can see clear across the Catskill Mountains. In the 1850s, the land was part of the estate of Martin Van Buren, eighth president of the United States. Today, Jean-Paul Courtens and his wife, Jody, grow vegetables, herbs and raise grass-fed pork, lamb and beef for more than 1,400 local families within a 130-mile radius, including many in New York City.
Roxbury Farm is community supported. Consumers can purchase a “share” — a membership — and receive a box of seasonal produce 23 times throughout the farming season. Members can also purchase fruit, pork, beef, lamb and chicken shares. Community supported agriculture (CSAs) give people the chance to reconnect with the land and the source of their food by buying directly from a local farmer. Roxbury members are invited to visit the farm to learn how the produce is grown and to see how the animals are treated.
Roxbury is also a Biodynamic® Farm, which means the farmers follow the agricultural principles developed by Weleda co-founder Dr. Rudolf Steiner in the early 20th century. Steiner believed that everything in nature is interdependent, and that a farm is perhaps the greatest example of this.
A Biodynamic® farm is comprised of many different elements all working together. Courtens compares it, fittingly, to a great symphony orchestra. He says, “A Biodynamic® farmer allows a great diversity of living organisms on his or her farm to thrive … every aspect of the farm makes its own unique contribution to the whole. When a farm is Biodynamic®, it is transformed from a factory, producing food and generating profit, to a being that has its own characteristics, with associated strengths and weaknesses that are honored.”
The Courtens have created an environment that is as beneficial as it can be to the land, workers, plants, animals and people who are nourished from it. “Our members eat veggies that are picked the day before or the morning of delivery,” says Courtens. “The food only travels 130 miles at most, not thousands. People who have been members of our CSA for 21 years talk to us about how eating the food is a transformational experience. New members say they finally know what a real tomato tastes like.”
Courtens has been farming biodynamically for 30 years. He studied at the school for Biodynamic® agriculture, Warmonderhof, in the Netherlands. It was here that he came to the realization that, as a farmer, he would need — and want — to get to know the people who ate the food he produced. When he started Roxbury Farm more than 20 years ago, he wanted it to operate not only as a Biodynamic® farm but also as a farm that had a relationship with the people it served.
Today, Roxbury is as Courtens always envisioned it. Roxbury members have become as integral to the farm as the rain, the seeds and the soil, and each member is able to develop a personal connection to the place. It’s these personal relationships, Courtens believes, that help maintain the integrity of organic and Biodynamic® farming. “A farm should be a place of beauty, where all individuals are given the opportunity to find meaningful work, the integrity of all living things is valued, and the food produced is a source of true nourishment,” says Courtens. “After all, it is the earth that sustains us; therefore, it is our responsibility to sustain the earth.” —Carrie Ruehlman