LEWISBURG, Pa. — For an agricultural business to survive and thrive, evolution must be part of its growth process. This is especially true for Dreamcatcher Farm, an 11-acre farm in central Pennsylvania that includes pasture, orchard, and vegetable gardens.

The farm is owned by Joe and Jackie Detelj, who started with the idea of ​​making a farm there. Joe remembers the farm’s humble beginnings.

“When we started, there was nothing here – it was corn and soybeans. So every tree, every shrub, everything you see here, we planted,” he said. said, “I was doing other economic development work and taking care of the farm, which was originally meant to be like a farm. But then it turned into a (working) farm.”

Throughout the farm’s decades-long history, the couple have emphasized sustainability, eco-friendly practices and relationships. As the farm grew, tending the grounds and expanding community ties were two key elements to its dynamic success.

Joe Detelj said the farm first tried to offer a farm market stall, but was unsuccessful. Then he and his wife started a community farm that shared both the risks and the rewards of the farm’s production each season. Using a Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, model, they offered weekly food shares to the community. Their local CSA shareholders pay an initial fee each spring. In return, members receive a weekly box of fresh seasonal vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers for 22 consecutive weeks, from spring to fall.

The farm is currently operated by full-time manager Leah Bingaman, who has extensive experience in the restaurant industry, sustainable farming practices and education. Bingaman earned a bachelor’s degree in multi/interdisciplinary studies, which included a certificate in organic agriculture from Delaware Valley University and the Rodale Institute. She also earned a certificate in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL), teaching in Indonesia for several years.

“What makes this farm so unique is the intention with which things were planted,” Bingaman said. “Our mission is to be able to provide food to everyone who needs it, regardless of demographic or economic status, but also not to have to cut back on how it’s supposed to support the environment. We meet (customers’) needs, while building the soil and doing things that are beneficial to the environment and to human health. Even the way we treat employees…it’s synergistic.

For more than 20 years, the farm has focused on the health and biology of its soils by incorporating organic matter into the soil and using methods such as minimum tillage and microbial inoculation as an alternative to chemical fertilizers and to pesticides.

Education is central to Farm’s offerings

From the start of their farming business, the Deteljs created a non-profit organization with an educational mission. He had an advisory board made up of other farmers and educators. Soon after, the farm partnered with nearby Bucknell University to provide on-farm vocational training and apprenticeship opportunities for students.

Summer harvest at Dreamcatcher Farm CSA.

What started out as a three-week summer course for Bucknell students has now turned into a solid series of weekly classes, with lectures such as: Frankenfood versus Farm Fresh Food; The dirty life: food, agriculture and ecology; food, agriculture, ecology and economy; and Cultivating Change.

Each course offers a combination of food and food industry reading, as well as organic farming experiences at Dreamcatcher Farm, which is just 4 miles from campus.

Geoff Schneider, Presidential Professor of Economics at Bucknell University and board member of Dreamcatcher Farm, said: “Students learn how hard farming is – lots of weeding and digging – but also how rewarding it is, sampling the food.

He continued, “Classes have been visiting the farm for over 15 years. The partnership started because Joe has always been passionate about educating people about the importance of sustainable agriculture. He’s a gifted educator, so it was a natural partnership.

This semester, 40 students regularly work on the farm.

“Bucknell students read the latest food and health studies, which consistently highlight the benefits of local organic farming,” according to Schneider. “But that’s not the same as experiencing it yourself. There’s nothing quite like picking a fresh tomato, a raspberry, an asparagus… or an apple and eating it right there on the farm. The flavor and texture are intensely rewarding and demonstrate the natural nutritional wisdom of our bodies, where we gravitate towards foods that contain high amounts of the nutrients we need. In the process, students learn enough to start their own organic garden at home. »

Offer and promote healthy choices

Continuing its evolution, the farm has formed a unique local partnership to promote healthy eating. In 2021, Dreamcatcher Farm Educational Outreach entered into a CSA agreement with nearby Lewisburg Evangelical Community Hospital.

Schneider said many hospitals and doctors now recognize the importance of healthy eating in the fight against obesity, hypertension, diabetes and other health issues.

Kendra Aucker, president and CEO of Evangelical Community Hospital, agrees.

“Evangelical serves as the farm’s financial sponsor, helping to offset operational expenses and allowing them to focus on their passion for growth,” she said. “This sponsorship is strategically aimed at impacting and improving community health outcomes and food insecurity issues in the evangelistic service area.”

She continued, “For Evangelical, collaborating with Dreamcatcher is one way to achieve the goal of providing healthy, local food to Evangelical employees and patients as well as the community. Through this, Evangelical invests in community health and impacts people’s ability to enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables. Access to wholesome, wholesome foods like fruits and vegetables is the cornerstone of good health.

Aucker explained the cogs and bolts of their internal CSA process.

“Forty-five shares are sold to employees through an employee CSA program. The shares are sold at fair market value to employees who express an interest and are chosen by lottery. Stocks can be picked up at a location in the hospital for employees to take with them every Wednesday during the 20-week growing season from June to October.

Funds raised through CSA actions are considered a return on investment in the health of the local community.

“Revenues generated from employee stock sales are reserved for future investment in food access, food education and food security projects,” Aucker said. “The remaining five shares are donated weekly to the Union County Food Hub, located at the Miller Center. The Food Center distributes these actions and other local products they receive through donations and purchases at a weekly pop-up produce stand. At this weekly product stand, community members can purchase products for free. Hospital sponsorship of Dreamcatcher Farm (also) helps offset operational expenses such as the farm manager’s salary, equipment, seeds, and other supplies.

Looking to the future, Aucker hopes to expand the program within the hospital to improve the hospital’s cafeteria offerings for patients.

“As a community hospital, our greatest desire is to make fresh food options available to our patients, our employees and the community,” she said. “The hospital continues to work on expanding the original plan, and we hope the next phase will include passing on benefits to our patients, guests and employees by supplementing the hospital’s nutritional services fresh food offerings with locally produced items. There are food distribution regulatory standards that will need to be met on both the farm side and the hospital side to achieve the dream, but the work is in progress and we are aiming for success.

Aucker saw the program grow in unexpected ways. In the spring of 2022, funds from employee stock purchases were used to offset costs associated with a farm-to-school program in the Shikellamy School District in Northumberland County.

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Bingaman leads an educational workshop for a group of schoolchildren.

Through the collaboration with Shikellamy, Bingaman met with 225 fifth graders to teach them about the countless parts of a farm, the differences between organic and conventional farming, what is grown on a produce farm, and to compare foods. processed with whole foods. Students also learned about the growth cycle of certain fruits and vegetables, what plants need to grow, and harvesting methods. Finally, the students studied lettuce crops and had the opportunity to visit the farm to plant and harvest their own lettuce.

Aucker said more such educational programs in local schools are planned for the 2022-23 school year.

“A ‘dreamcatcher’ is a (Native American concept). It keeps the bad stuff out and the good stuff in,” said Joe Detelj. “We try to cultivate good community and personal relationships. I’m at the stage in my life where I’m not profit driven.

Detelj encourages people to have a dream and follow it with conviction, because without a vision, he says, a dream cannot come true.

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