ALLEGANY ã Over the past few decades the unique concept of community-supported agriculture has been gaining interest around the world.

There is perhaps no more unique example of the crop shareholder system than Canticle Farm, the community-supported agriculture system in place in Allegany.

Canticle Farm is a mission of the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany. Its purpose is to draw diverse people together, celebrate a ßcreation-centered spiritualityà and practice earth-friendly growing habits.

Community-supported agriculture started 30 years ago in Japan as ßteikei,à or an arrangement that puts the farmersÞ face on food. Local consumers commit to buy produce from a local farmer by purchasing shares of the farmerÞs yield before the growing season begins.

The benefits are many for the farmer and the consumer.

The farmer has a guaranteed local market for his crops, does not have to spend time looking for buyers, and his costs are covered before he even grows any crops.

As for the consumers, they have a steady supply of fresh produce and know the grower and the methods used to grow their food. They also avoid paying the costs associated with distributing and transporting the food.

The system gives young people an incentive to farm, boosts the local economy, builds a sense of community and honors the experience of local growers. It is estimated that more than 10,000 community-supported agriculture farms have been established in North America.

Canticle Farm was born after more than a year of planning by the Franciscan Sisters and the farmÞs core group of organizers. Its 10-acre plot sits on South Nine Mile Road in Allegany next to The ReHabilitation Center, on land the sisters recently bought from the agency.

During the first year, just more than two acres are being farmed for 43 shareholders.

ßThis farm is about more than just vegetable production,à said Mark Printz, the farmÞs manager. ßWeÞre different from your average roadside stand. Profit is not our goal. Our success is measured by the happiness of our shareholders.à

Indeed, the farm is about community. Close to 40 percent of the shares have been purchased for the purpose of helping the less fortunate in the community, and any leftover produce is distributed to the needy, such as local soup kitchens.

Almost as important to the core group is the method of farming: The earth is farmed gently and organically, as Mr. Printz attempts to revitalize the soil.

ßWe use no insecticides, no herbicides. WeÞre getting back to natureÞs way of doing things,à he said. ßThere were problems with insects 100 years ago (before the use of chemicals). WeÞll let nature take care of itself.à

The land had previously been used to grow corn exclusively, which is presenting challenges as Mr. Printz attempts to ßbring upà the life of the soil. It may take a year or two before the soil is where it needs to be.

ßThis is a learning year,à he said. ßItÞs amazing the hurdles weÞve overcome. But we really appreciate everybody supporting us. People believing in us has made this happen.

ßAll it takes is explaining to them what this project involves. There is an interest out there and a generally positive attitude.à

Volunteers sit on the farmÞs various committees and work the farm, and support the organization with a generous stream of donations. These donations include a fence, irrigation, compost materials, the trucking of materials, the use of machinery, and countless smaller items.

A special gift was the donation of a well, which has provided life to the farm during the hot and dry summer.

Why has the response been so positive? Mr. Printz gave new meaning to the trendy catch phrase ßItÞs all good.à

ßWith this farm, thatÞs really true,à he said with a smile. ßItÞs all good. The spirituality of it, the generosity, the earth-friendly farming, the community-building. People are getting away from the Ýbigger, better, fasterÞ trap.

ßCorporate America and the general population are becoming more aware that we canÞt keep beating on the earth and destroying things. ItÞs not just tree huggers anymore.à

There are skeptics who donÞt think the farm will last.

ßWe have our naysayers,à Mr. Printz said with a shrug. ßWeÞre a work in progress, but look out for us in four or five years.à

Eventually, core members want to farm the whole 10.5 acres, but next year theyÞll shoot for three acres, farmed for 60-plus shareholders.

Long-term goals also include a distribution center, an established space for prayer and contemplation, trails around and through the garden, orchards, a green house and more.

Anybody interested in visiting the farm or inquiring about becoming a shareholder for next yearÞs harvest can stop down to the farm and talk to Mr. Printz. He also can be reached at 378-9714, or online at PRINTZ@netsync.net.

ßPeople can contact me any time. I love to show people around and try to explain what this is all about, and maybe bring them into our community,à he said.

His ßoffice hours?à About 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. each weekday, plus another six hours on Saturday.

ßI put in about 12-hour days,à he said, walking back toward the field. ßBut thereÞs enough to keep me here 24/ 7.à

Darrell Klute is a communications specialist for The ReHabilitation Center and also serves on the Canticle FarmÞs Marketing Committee.

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