Growing more than food: Farming with Zaid Kurdieh
This season, Norwich Meadows Farm owner Zaid Kurdieh is one of 100+ regional farmers providing New York City communities with fresh, locally grown food through Just Food’s CSA Network. If you want to support local farms and get access to healthy, organic produce, now’s the perfect time to join a CSA: find yours!
On March 29, Zaid spoke to an audience of 1,000 Just Food conference attendees to describe his life as a farmer and the reasons he farms for CSA.
“It’s about people. The food I produce – that you want to eat – is a building block of the human community.”
In 1998, Zaid gave up his job as a cooperative extension agent with Cornell University to work the land with his wife, Haifa. They opened Norwich Meadows Farm and started working with CSAs in 2001 with the help of Just Food. The decision to farm for CSA was a simple one for Zaid. “[It helps us] cover upfront capital costs for farming. It’s a way of diversification for farmers, as in you have a lot of customers, as opposed to three grocers, and if one leaves you don’t lose 30% of your business.”
For Zaid, economic benefits weren’t the only motivation to farm for CSA. “This model enables us to farm and to reach out to communities without the middleman,” says Zaid. “It enables the community – through farm visits and so on – to actually have a direct connection with the earth. … [It] offers a different experience for them, [allowing them] to actually come out and visit the rural areas and experience the ‘hinterlands.’”
In 2009, a difficult core group transition threatened to end one of Zaid’s Manhattan CSAs, but a group of members, including Michelle Miller, decided they couldn’t let that happen, and so they formed the Merchant’s Gate CSA. “We didn’t want it to die,” says Michelle. “The other CSA was fading away and we wanted to make sure it stayed, because it is so good for the farmer and for the community. Now we have over 100 members.”
Their dedication to remake the CSA was inspired in part by the members’ longtime, direct relationship with Zaid. “He is a great person to work with, very flexible and a big proponent of the model.” More than that, she adds, “He loves getting to know where his food is going.”
For Michelle, one of the most rewarding aspects of being in the Merchant’s Gates CSA is the experiences it has allowed her to have. Reflecting back on her experience in the four years since she became part of the core group, she says, “It’s amazing seeing the food coming out of the ground. Without a CSA you don’t know your farmer, you don’t have that connection. I love having that connection and being able to get local food in the city.”
One of the best parts of being part of a CSA is that it helps members make strong connections to their communities. As Zaid puts it, it helps communities “gather round” their food. According to Michelle, even before becoming a core member, being part of a CSA “helped me meet people I’ve never seen before. It’s very fun to connect and get to know other people I never would’ve met otherwise.”
Zaid farms as a way to connect with the land and with people in his community, and CSA is a vital model for him to be able to do that. “I don’t know if our farm would exist without CSA. For our farm it is crucial, and without it we most likely would not be farming.”