North Salem residents are fortunate to have no shortage of seasonal produce to buy from local farms. Promotions for Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs can be found all over town at farms, restaurants and well-traveled intersections. But one CSA program stands out for the person who runs it—a 9-year-old.
“I’ve been farming since I was able to walk,” said Allegra Esposito, a rising 4th grader at the Wooster School in Danbury, who manages a CSA program from her backyard in North Salem. Allegra grew up helping her mom grow vegetables and plants. Last year she decided to begin a CSA program as a way to earn money.
“We first advertised the program on a local Facebook group,” said Allegra’s mom, Jennifer. “Within minutes we had to turn people away.”
Allegra services between eight to ten customers a season. Saturdays are customer days. The produce is cut, washed, bagged and weighed.
Customers either stop by the Esposito house to pick up their haul or Allegra and her mom deliver to members in town. Each bag contains a list of the week’s offerings, which may include things like mesclun, swiss chard, peas, tomatoes, cucumbers and herbs. Often the customer bags include a typed newsletter from Allegra with information about the produce and recipes.
The process for preparing a CSA program begins months before the first customer bags go out.
Each April, Allegra and her mom, along with Allegra’s brother Elliot begin preparing their garden for the season. They map out what they want to grow and where they’ll grow it in the garden, taking into consideration things like how much space the vegetable needs to grow and its compatibility with other produce. They weed all the beds, add in homemade compost, and weed block everything so that the seeds they plant – one seed at a time - have the best chance to thrive. The entire process takes several weeks.
Almost everything that comes from the Esposito garden is heirloom and grown in organic soil. Allegra and her mom choose seeds from Baker Seed Company, which produces seeds that have not been genetically modified. For fertilizer, each year is an experiment. Last year they used duck excrement, algae and water as a fertilizer. This year, Allegra was delighted with the results of using an emulsified fish and seaweed fertilizer.
“Fish guts!” she exclaimed, with a triumphant raise of her arms. “Thank you, fish guts.”
Aided by the fish guts and painstaking daily care, Allegra’s garden has been having a banner year. Approximately 35 pounds of cucumbers and squash are harvested each day. CSA customer bags recently grew so heavy that Allegra needed extra help to lift them. And local businesses have caught on to the bounty. Both Kingsley’s Deli and North Salem Pizza & Pasta have purchased cucumbers from Allegra.
Allegra’s already thinking ahead to next year. She and her mom plan to expand the garden, which will allow them to continue to experiment with new produce. Allegra is excited to try growing kohlrabi, which she ate at a family dinner at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. “Every year we try something and if it works, it works,” says Jennifer.