Now that Swallowtail Farm has expanded its CSA to 250 members, has seven acres in production, grown into the egg business, opened a microcreamery, hosted regular farm to table dinners and diversified to growing cut flowers, it’s interesting to look back at the farm’s beginnings.
In 2009, farm founder Noah Shitama (pictured at far right) took a hard look at the soil on the property of Rick and Jane Nesbitt, located outside Alachua and High Springs. Noah has kids with the Nesbitt’s daughter Liz, and through his involvement with the family he was familiar with the land and its possibilities. “Me and my friend had started gardening in town in Gainesville,” Noah said. “But everything we planted out in Alachua grew five times faster than it did in town, so we knew there was some good soil. We made a big garden out there.”
But this wasn’t just an off the cuff idea. “I had wanted to start a farm for a while,” Noah said. “I had already visited a bunch of farms with the intention of finding out how we wanted to do this.”
Starting with 30 households in their Community Supported Agriculture program, Swallowtail farm was starting to take off. “We had the blessing of people who had a little faith in us,” Noah said.
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a business model used by many small farms. Families typically pay for a season’s worth of produce up front, which gives farmers cash at the beginning of the season and guarantees that everything planted in the field is pre-sold. CSA members then pick up a basket of produce every week or so, a grab bag of seasonal vegetables. Swallowtail has multiple CSA options including flexible payment plans, and various pick up areas around Gainesville.
In addition to their farm staff, Swallowtail also hosts four apprentices throughout the season who live on the farm and learn the trade, including growing, harvesting and marketing techniques. Having a community of beginning farmers working together and sharing meals together helps to bridge the biggest transition in Noah’s life as a farmer-- leaving Gainesville to live in the country. “Being out away from town is really different,” Noah said. “I love the quiet out there, but I grew up in Gainesville. I try and find the balance between living out in the country and being around people.”