I caught up with Lee and Michael from GRUB Farm a couple weeks ago to talk about their big move to a new location. If you’ve visited GRUB at the farmer’s market, or on their farm, you already know that the members have an amazing passion for what they do. The following article was published in The Synthesis, but I’ve also made it available here, with some great photos of the guys at work. Continue to support your local farmers! And Chico kids, remember, Chico Bicycle Music Festival is coming up in a couple months, and Blush will be there, serving up great food (much of which we will source directly from GRUB because we love them).
Visiting the GRUB Cooperative will take you out Dayton Road past a strawberry farm and down a long driveway where you’re likely to witness Ron Toppi repairing bikes, some kids playing, and/or adults working in the fields, greenhouses, and tending plant starts.
It’s a place where people gather, and a place that has become known for the lovely vegetables they grow, the fun events they hold, and for their decision to allow schools educational access to farming. It’s like a magical little commune with a strong vision for the future, and many hands working together to make it all happen.
So why change?
The original GRUB Co-op was given a five-year lease on their Dayton Rd. property, where they successfully farmed three-and-a-half acres, built up a Community Supported Agriculture program, and made a name for themselves in a city where sustainability has become not only an important issue, but a feasible reality to the extent that our community members choose it.
GRUB began as a non-profit organization, but over time the need to develop the CSA farm as a separate, for-profit business, became apparent. The farm needed more space to keep up with demand. The Dayton Rd. property afforded usable space, but another acre-and-a-half in Riparia was needed to supplement the three-and-a-half acres they were already farming. Splitting the farm up this way proved a bit difficult to maintain.
When the property owner at Dayton Rd. refused to renew a long-term lease, and after much deliberation, Francine Stuelpnagel, Michael Shaw, and Lee Callender decided it was time to take the original vision to the next logical step. “How often do people get a do-over five years into their original business model?” said Shaw, “[This transition] is an incredible opportunity.”
By moving the GRUB CSA farm to its new location at 3197 W. Sacramento Ave, the new for-profit farm will allow the farm to be consolidated into one parcel, and be ready for growth with ten acres of usable space. With all the time and expense to “put roots down” on a property, the three partners who have invested themselves in the new CSA farm wanted to be sure they did so wisely.
According to Shaw, the new property has “historically been a place where food and community intersect.” The Canfield family, who purchased the land from John Bidwell, used the space as a chicken farm, a melon patch in the summer, and a pumpkin patch in the fall. Community members could visit the farm, and gather its bounty as it ripened on the vines. For Shaw, this property feels like a “natural fit.” He noted that he appreciates the beauty of the property, and its close proximity to downtown.
When Callender arrived, he conveyed his excitement over having land that is “fundamentally our own, with long-term security.” Callender also said they’ll be able to farm more sustainably, efficiently, and with more crop cover and rotation. “The new land will also be more functional and aesthetically pleasing,” he said, because the new layout will allow CSA members easy viewing of the crops, and will possibly allow the opportunity to participate in u-pick programs, where members of the CSA can harvest food themselves.
As for how the move has been for Callender? “It has been awesome, and challenging,” he said, “I mean, shit, Franny gives birth next week.”
We all laughed a little as we congratulated Callender on his second child with his lovely wife, Stuelpnagel, who was one of the original founders of the GRUB Cooperative. As a student of the CSU Chico sustainability department, she spearheaded the vision of bringing a community-minded farming method to Chico. And we’re so glad she did.
Her efforts, and the efforts of others, have brought beautiful produce to the GRUB booth at local farmer’s markets and the CSA program. Furthermore, the youthful energy and sustainable mindset of its members have made GRUB an integral part of our agricultural community.
While the GRUB CSA Farm makes its move over to Sacramento Ave, the GRUB Co-op will continue to function at the Dayton Rd. property. Youth education programs will continue. Schools like Blue Oak visit the Co-op farm for field trips where students get the opportunity to get their hands in the dirt, weed asparagus rows, and harvest beets while learning about sustainable growing practices, seasons, and maybe a little about life, too.
The GRUB Co-op on Dayton Rd. remains one of the only places in the area where you can find organic plant starts for your home garden, lovingly tended by Sherri Scott who also hosts seed swaps. The GRUB Education Program also works with the grant-funded Cultivating Community Project to bring information about urban farming, assistance in creating community gardens, and more.