Editor’s Note: Follow Chris (former Rodale Institute intern and beginning farmer) each month as he keeps us up to date on the trials and tribulations of getting his farm up and running.
I never thought I’d find myself at Rodale Institute four years after graduating from college, but there I was on April Fools’ Day nonetheless moving my modest amount of belongings into a rustic stronghold of the Institute: the Siegfriedale house. The house, like the Institute, was brimming with character and unique little crannies to indulge any farmer’s or visitor’s interest. From that day forth it was a sweaty slope of hard work in the field and many hours of intense yet greatly appreciated air-conditioned workshops as an intern in the Agriculture Supported Communities (ASC) program.
Constantly eager for more knowledge of organic farming, all five ASC interns along with a soil microbiologist got to reside right there on the farm. This proved extremely beneficial as we did not miss much of the rhythms a farm offers, especially one as diverse as Rodale. We were a scrappy bunch, the ASC crew of 2013. All filled with character of exceptional quality and all with interesting stories and unique aspirations for the future I soon learned during our biweekly potlucks. But what made us stand out was that we never shied away from a challenge or task that assisted Rodale’s other programs. It was hard work but the knowledge and experience were priceless and will never fade. That being said, I would have never been able to do it without the help from them as well as those giving their support in my hometown of Bethlehem, PA.
In November my time at Rodale as an ASC intern was complete and preparation for next spring began. I didn’t know how far along I’d get in my first year of pursuing my goal of owning and operating my own CSA, but I always kept it in my mind as I worked side jobs in Bethlehem during the winter. As time went on I stayed in close contact with a convent and a number of non-profits also interested in joining the healthy food movement in Bethlehem.
Now fast forward through countless meetings, confusing forms and exciting crop planning to Spring: I’ve started my own LLC called Bethlehem’s Bounty CSA which will be starting its humble beginnings at Monocacy Manor run by a convent of energetic and delightful nuns. In addition to starting my own CSA I’m assisting a passionate and dedicated non-profit called the Friends of Johnston transform an old corn field into a haven of nature education for students and the disabled, as well as promote food forests and organic food, not to mention mitigate flood water in the Monocacy Creek.
Chris West was born and raised in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where he connected with nature at an early age. In 2008 he graduated with a degree in environmental engineering, and from there worked several jobs in the private sector. Feeling unfulfilled, Chris picked up a backpack and explored the West Coast, learning to be self-sufficient. When he returned home he started growing food: tomatoes, blueberries, gooseberries, Swiss chard and Brussels sprouts. Chris followed this passion to work at a CSA in Nazareth, Pennsylvania – he enjoyed the work but felt the desire to make it his own. In 2013, he accepted a position in the Agriculture Supported Communities (ASC) program at the Rodale Institute, where he gained a solid base of experience and knowledge to start his own CSA. Now Chris has fulfilled his goal, having started Bethlehem’s Bounty, a new CSA in his hometown.