Clearwater’s Life Farm ups the ante on shopping local with community supported agriculture program

It also operates stands in Dunedin and St. Petersburg.

click to enlarge Clearwater’s Life Farm ups the ante on shopping local with community supported agriculture program

The farm life isn’t anything new to Rowland Milam. He grew up on one near Greenville, South Carolina. He raised angus there, and the farm is still in his family to this day.

In 2012, Milam left the corporate world behind and founded his six-acre Life Farms, at 2759 Woodring Dr. in Clearwater Within months of acquiring the land, the seasoned farmer already had crops ready for harvesting.

Life Farms is the only land-based organic farm in Pinellas County. It focuses on cultivating vegetables, herbs and microgreens organically — which means no synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. Milam is currently in the process of getting Life Farms USDA-certified.

“We had product to sell at our 2013 market. That’s when we started our community supported agriculture [project],” Milam explains. 

The farm’s first CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture, included an assortment of 150 varieties of vegetables, fruits, and herbs. There are 100 members in the CSA, and the program is open to the public, with a few stipulations.

New members are accepted until the total amount of shares sell out. Membership depends on share size (family or individual), and a seasonal fee ranging between $110 to $1,700 must be paid upfront. For instance, a bi-weekly share of vegetables, herbs and microgreens will cost you $490 or $27.20 a week.

“It’s very affordable. It averages out to $20 a week for 36 weeks, and our food is picked that morning,” Milam tells CL. “What you get is harvested that day.”

Recently, Life Farms partnered with a local chicken farmer, Circle 6 Farms, and TrailBale Farms to get a number of organic soy-free, USDA-certified eggs and chickens for the CSA program.

“We know TrailBale from the market. They’re an organic family farm and this is our first season working together. When you have friends, you want to stick together,” Milam adds.

Life Farms Manager Jochen Essig says that it’s not just about giving local farms opportunities to showcase their products. It’s also about giving the customer a heavy variety to choose from.

“We want to have 10 varieties of lettuce and five varieties of radishes. We want to have a diverse assortment to keep people happy,” Essig says. 

The CSA opens for the seventh season mid-October and will run until mid-June. CSA members can pick up their weekly food items every Friday and Saturday 10 a.m.-3 p.m. and every Monday 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

And you don’t have to be a member of CSA to hop to get up close and personal to the crop life. You can simply swing by during an open-farm day to get a tour and some one-on-one time with Milam himself. Surprisingly, you won’t be alone. According to Essig, the farm is quite popular. 

“We’re the only traditional farm in Pinellas County with field production. People are lining up to come to tours or open-farm days,” Essig says.

He believes there is a need for a project like Life Farms because people want a behind the scenes look at what owning and operating a farm looks like. Visitors may just be curious or they may want to get in on farm life in a very real way.

Not able to make it to Life Farm, but want to see what all the fuss is about when it comes to organic, locally-grown crops? Milam and the team have stands at both Dunedin Downtown and St. Pete Saturday Markets. Swing by with a reusable bag and a few questions because Milam will be happy to answer them.

Milam believes that the farm helps the local community in several ways, including giving back to the environment, offering high-quality products, and being sustainable. One of the most fulfilling things for the farmer is passing along his knowledge and opening Life Farms up to locals.

“We’re growing vegetables that have no pesticides or chemicals. Families come out with their kids see all this. We cover everything from education to sustainability,” Milam adds. “We keep them from going through the drive-thru.”

Follow @cl_tampabay on Twitter to get the most up-to-date news + views. Subscribe to our newsletter, too.