GRUB CSA Farm’s Journey to Land Ownership

A landscape image of the field at GRUB CSA Farm with hoop houses in the background

From its very beginnings, GRUB CSA Farm was about investing in land, sustainability and community. Inspired by a sustainability conference years ago, Francine Stuelpnagel realized she wanted to acquire land to support local communities and better nutrition through sustainable agriculture. At the conference, she learned about front yard gardens, and Francine realized if she can’t buy land, the best way forward was to “ask for what you want.” With a few friends, Francine began asking people in the Chico area to donate their yards, resulting in 45 people offering their front or back yards to a nascent collective, the start of a farming group.

The gardens became the start of a small community supported agriculture, or CSA, where members get weekly boxes of home-grown produce throughout the growing season. With nine backyard gardens, Francine and her co-founders supported a 45-member CSA in 2008. From there, the group leased and moved onto a 40-acre property and began the Grub Cooperative. Shifting from front yard gardens, Francine and her husband Lee began farming seven acres of the property, and were able to support up to 70 CSA members while also selling their produce at farmers markets.

After four years on this property, the landlord ended the lease, so Francine and Lee began to search for new property that would help them maintain secure land tenure. In 2013, they secured a long-term lease at their current land, farming 10 acres of vegetables. But Francine still had a dream of owning land from her inspiration at that conference years ago. “We wanted to own land for security reasons, financial, and most of all so no one can ask us to leave,” she said. When a 15-acre property immediately next to theirs went on sale in 2019, Francine and Lee knew this was the perfect opportunity to finally own land.

The goal of purchasing land established Francine and Lee’s relationship with California FarmLink, an organization they had long known about from various conferences but had never worked with personally. Given contact information for FarmLink by a friend, they reached out to learn more about the process for securing a loan. Francine was thrilled by the responsiveness and level of interest from staff throughout the process, noting, “Farmlink was there with us the whole way.” The process was made easier thanks to the detailed bookkeeping Francine and Lee had kept through their accountant, advice Francine hopes other farmers looking for land will keep in mind.

Before they knew it, and with a land loan pre-approval from FarmLink, their offer on the land was accepted and GRUB CSA Farm expanded. Francine and Lee plan to devote half the new land to growing more vegetables, while the other half will remain as a walnut orchard that was already established. This decision expands the diversified, organic, and sustainable agriculture vision for which GRUB CSA Farm is known. Their use of cover crops, diversified vegetables, and growing to organic standards demonstrates their commitment to the community, of farming the land sustainably that inspired Francine to begin farming 12 years ago.

This new property will allow Francine and Lee to expand their CSA and farmers market operations. This season’s membership has already reached 150 members. Francine noted this was their first time with over 100 members, a reality made possible by purchasing the 15-acre farm. Currently focused on developing their new land to meet their long-term goals, Francine and Lee are excited by the new opportunities to grow their business.

Archie Scoville is California FarmLink’s Farm Equity Correspondent. Archie guest writes for FarmLink’s blog and social media, with a focus on farmers who work with the organization. A student at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, Archie studies international environmental policy, natural resource management, and public land use.

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