A growing legacy
Heidi Secord of Cherry Valley Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm, checks the early season growth of the farm's garlic crop.
Growing up, Heidi Secord thought someday she'd be a businesswoman. So this Connecticut girl went to the University of Rhode Island and earned a degree in business management.
But upon graduation, she just couldn't quite see herself in a business suit sitting behind a desk, so instead, she joined the Peace Corps.
She found herself halfway around the world serving as a small business volunteer in Mali, West Africa and Lesotho, South Africa. After three months of training, she began working with a rural business women's group and basket weaving cooperatives. The women did soapmaking and grew crops to sell in the markets, doing anything to sell items to support their families.
While there, Heidi learned what it was she wanted to do with her life. It involved getting her hands dirty and working in the soil. She had developed a passion for agriculture.
After serving two years in the Peace Corps, when she came back home to the states, she just didn't seem to fit in. She found it hard to integrate herself back into the society of social capitalism.
"Farming was something I felt passionate about and where I felt comfortable in fitting in. I wanted to be outside working everyday and not sitting inside behind a desk."
She took a job at a cricket farm in Kempton, then a heirloom tomato farm in Lenhartsville followed by growing produce for the kitchen of the Glasbern Inn, a Bed and Breakfast/Inn in Fogelsville.
She did an internship at the Rodale Institute's experimental farm, which involved her second passion, that of traveling. She visited New Zealand, Fiji, Thailand, Laos and Guatemala, acquiring various agricultural techniques.
In 2001, she took on the job of managing Rolling Hills Farm in Saylorsburg. "I had been working for all these other people. I was ready for the next step in starting my own business. I wanted it to be something that would be a connection between consumers, me and the earth."
In 2006, Heidi started looking for land and heard about property available on Cherry Valley Road, outside Saylorsburg.
"As soon as I walked the property, I knew this was were I was supposed to land." She felt a deep connection to it.
Heidi learned it had been the farm of a very extraordinary woman - Josie Porter. A kindred spirit.
Josephine Irene Snyder was born in 1916 in Cherry Valley and graduated from Stroudsburg High School.
She went to Blackburn College in 1934-36 and wanted to be an osteopathic physician but there was no money for her to continue her studies so she returned home to work on her parents' 200-acre dairy farm, the Cloverdale Dairy.
It was there she discovered her life's work. In 1936, she learned about the Biodynamic method of farming and gardening (a method similar to what we now call "organic farming.") She believed good health stemmed from healthy plants, animals and soil life. This method spoke to her own ideas and she did all she could to learn, then applied what she learned to her own gardening.
She was well known in the Stroudsburgs and the resorts as "the milk lady" because she delivered fresh milk and cream and in her youth, by horse and cart. She gained another nickname as "the redhead in Cherry Valley" and was even the inspiration for the popular recorded song, "Queen of the Poconos," written by Lee Smith, sung by George Coward with the Pocono Echoes on Shawnee Records in the 1940s.
She married Charles Harris Porter, a horticulturist and musician, in 1953, and their daughter, Abigail was born in 1954.
The Porter family moved to Chester, New York, where Josie worked under the guidance of Dr. Ehrenfried Peiffer, a pioneer of Biodynamic agriculture in America. He is most widely known for his innovative work in composting.
She was named secretary-treasurer of the Biodynamics Farming and Gardening Association, (founded by Dr. Peiffer,) a position she held until 1973.
When her marriage ended in 1964, Josie and her daughter moved back to her family's farm. She continued farming and was consulted about the use of Biodynamic preparation making right up until her death in 1984.
Hugh Courtney apprenticed with Josie in 1976 to learn the art of Biodynamic preparation making. When Josie died, Courtney decided to carry on her work by creating the Josephine Porter Institute in Woolwine, Virginia, in 1985, which continues to be dedicated to making Biodynamic preparations of the highest quality, and conducts Biodynamic agricultural research and education in the areas of Biodynamic agriculture, horticulture and forestry.
Josie is considered one of the women who made history in Monroe County.
Twenty-two years later, on that morning in 2006, Heidi felt the same love of the land Josie had felt as she walked the Porter farm acreage.
Josie's daughter, Abigail had had the farm placed in Open Space, but 48 acres were available for lease from Stroud Township.
Heidi knew it was where she wanted to plant her roots.
"I had attended a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) seminar in 1997 at Tamiment. And everything I've learned about CSA since convinced me it was the direction I wanted to go in," she says.
The principal of CSA is, people purchase shares, which actively funds a farmer for growing produce. Throughout the growing season, (about 22 weeks), every week the members can come and pick up their fresh, locally grown, organic, seasonal produce. Heidi's CSA farm helps maintain the environmental and scenic quality of the beautiful Cherry Valley area of the Pocono Mountains.
"The shareholders become connected with and mindful of the real needs of our earth, the Valley, and this farm."
Her friend, Gary Secord (now her husband) was a trained landscape architect who had worked on the 20/20 Monroe County Vision Plan and on the Watershed Plan for Cherry Valley. She talked to him about her dream and they worked a lot of those elements into a plan to protect agriculture. Stroud Township loved her idea and she gained a strong supporter in Ed Cramer. A lease was signed between Heidi and the township in 2006 and she began her first planting at the Cherry Valley CSA in 2007.
She applied for and was given a grant through ESSA Bank & Trust's charitable foundation for money to put up a deer excluder fence.
"We started planting in April, got the grant and had people lined up to go and was able to get the fence up in three days, just as the crops started popping up."
She developed friendships and business relationships through her enrollment of the Leadership Pocono program through the Pocono Mountains Chamber of Commerce.
"I think it's through those connections that things fell into place as they did."
The first year the farm sold 45 shares. For 2011, the farm has sold almost 120 shares, which covers the costs of seeds, soil amendments, farm supplies, insurance, salaries, stipends for the interns and more, to keep the farm sustainable.
Heidi plants well over a variety of more than 35 different crops from garlic, onions, asparagus, cabbage, lettuce, peas, spinach, turnips, beans, beets, carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers to eggplant, okra, peppers, potatoes, sweet corn, tomatoes, watermelon, zucchini, broccoli, peanuts, pumpkins and herbs on five of her 48 acres.
Each year the farm offers the shares to the previous year's members, then to those on a waiting list, then the general public.
She loves to see how the members become passionate about the produce plus they like bringing their children out to the farm so they become aware of what is involved in growing the food they eat.
"We encourage them to come out four hours a month to help in the gardens. They help weed, plant, and harvest. I tell them it's all about getting your hands in the earth."
"Cherry Valley CSA is a great program. We enjoyed fresh, local, organic food throughout the summer and fall. We are still using items we froze and canned. My kids loved trying the different vegetables that we wouldn't ordinarily buy in a store due to the cost. You can volunteer to work the farm in many different areas. Some members manned the distribution center while others harvested the crops. Weed wacking and mowing are also appreciated. Heidi and the staff are friendly and knowledgeable. There are pot luck dinners throughout the year so members can get to know each other. My kids and I enjoyed working with them. I am glad we have signed up again this year," says Carol B.
Another member says, "I very much enjoyed the past year with Cherry Valley CSA. We loved the fresh veggies and I even enjoyed picking veggies, even the green beans. My family is looking forward to another bountiful growing season."
"I loved picking up all the fresh produce each week, learning more about them and how to cook them. We definitely ate more veggies this summer and that's good. My Simply in Season cookbook was quite a help," says another member.
"We are very satisfied with the CSA. I loved the fact that I could bring my family with me and show them where their food came from and even hike around," says another member.
Tuesdays and Fridays are the CSA's distribution days. The Josie Porter Farm Store, (which was the former Monroe County Election House, moved from its original site on Rt. 191 to the farm), offers the farm's products like its garlic vinegar and eggs, along with honey, maple syrup, wild caught salmon, and cheese from other local farmers.
"At first we only had our own vegetables. But as the members came in and asked about other products, I saw this as chance to support other local farmers and we started bringing in their products to fulfill that need."
The farm also offers beef, pig and chicken shares.
In addition to managing the farm, Heidi chairs Pennsylvania Women in Agriculture Network (PAWAgN), based out of Penn State, a tableshed for women farmers which has close to 1,000 members.
"There are three main reasons women come to our events: for technical skills, to network with other women and to showcase women's farms, celebrating what we have accomplished. Women are the fastest growing sector in agriculture in the country. I think women see market opportunities and the social benefits of them a little more clearly than men."
She is a board member of the Monroe County Conservation District and was recently elected to the board of the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA), an organization that holds a large conference at Penn State in February each year that draws about 2,500 attendees.
Heidi recently had a great honor bestowed upon her. As an alumni of RULE (which use to be Pennsylvania Agricultural Leadership Program through Penn State) she had the opportunity to meet many women in agriculture. At one such gathering from Australia, she met Cathy McGowan, who invited her to be a keynote speaker at a Rural Women in Business and Agriculture conference in Beechworth, Victoria in Australia, held April 3-4. She accepted and she and Gary toured for about a week before she gave her presentation of "Telling Your Story."
"I gave the ladies a chance for them to tell their stories and then I talked about CSA and how I became involved and how CSA can fit into their farming. Their local farm markets are just starting to take off."
The Secords loved their Australian experience.
"The people were so kind. Out of the 16 days we were there, we stayed in a hotel only four of those days. The other days we were invited to stay at various farms. We stayed on a sheep, a walnut, a flaxseed, a potato, and an organic carrot, potato and root farm."
During her keynote presentation on CSAs, she saw light bulbs going on.
"They're also looking for alternatives and I think my story of our CSA inspired a lot of people to see that they only need five acres to feed a lot of people."
She had one woman from New South Wales come up afterward and ask her to please come and speak to her group. In a matter of two and a half days, the woman got 75 people to come hear Heidi.
"Sustainable farming has grown much in the last eight years. I think people are looking for alternatives, especially those with young children who want to learn about farming and know where their food is coming from."
As the country watches food prices going up, Heidi says her food prices aren't.
"I pay the same amount for my seeds and my labor each year. I believe that once people start supporting local farmers and businesses, they'll see how it is a means for creating financial wealth in their own communities."
The farm holds Community Days and this year Friends of Cherry Valley will hold Cherry Valley Day on June 11 from 12-5 p.m. at the farm with farm tours, informational talks about bog turtles, wild edibles with food with kids' games and live music.
A friend, Steve Hoog, will be taking people on a Wild Food Walk on the farm on May 28.
"We try to incorporate members with skills like Rich Grebb who holds star-gazing programs here at the farm."
"We want to hear people say,'Oh, we're going to our farm.' We want that connection with the farm, the farmer and the land. And we want to get kids back to nature."
That's why the Josie Porter Farm offers kids' programs including an Enrichment Camp that will be held for one week for kids between the ages of 10-15. They will plant, weed and harvest. They will hear speakers talk about ecology, environment, with farming and agriculture in mind.
Her grander vision includes attaining a nonprofit organization on site with an agricultural learning center with a certified kitchen to teach food preservation techniques and hold farm events with speakers during the winter months so it can be a year-round enterprise.
"About a year ago, I read that Josie had wanted to build a learning center on the farm, also. When I read that, I cried, because it really is her legacy."
When Heidi married Gary, he lived in the former Cherry Valley Grange, converted into a home. Josie was the Cherry Valley Grange Master for several years.
So Heidi believes it was Josie's energy that led her to the farm to continue a legacy: To nurture and to sustain a healthier way to feed a community, sown by the ideas of a woman she's never met, but feels she knows like a soul sister.
"When I started this farm, it wasn't about me. It was about creating something better for our world. And as soon as I started the farm, it was in my mind, who could I cultivate to take over the farm to keep it going because I want this farm to continue to be a legacy long after I'm gone."
Did Josie wish the same?
Heidi says, "I feel her energy all around me and when I'm out working on the land, I feel she would approve."
(You can learn more about the farm and dates of upcoming events at Cherry Valley CSA by visiting the website of www.josieporterfarm.com.)