Smile Politely

Blue Moon Farm talks about growing produce in C-U for over 20 years

Blue Moon Farm has been a quiet but strong part of the Champaign-Urbana community for over 20 years. Consistently sending their crops to the farmers’ market as well as allowing individuals to purchase crops, they have made locally grown produce accessible to our town. Thus, it was extremely gratifying to be able to interview one of the farm’s managers, Lorien Carsey, to delve into the specifics of what the farm does for our town.

Throughout her interview, Carsey thoroughly emphasizes the family values of Blue Moon Farm with its dedicated employees and love for providing crops for the public. Since the late 1990s, Blue Moon has been providing delicious crops while also administering strong environmental values. In this way, Blue Moon has been able to become a fundamental part of Champaign-Urbana while also treating our Earth well.

Farm co-manager Lorien Carsey holds up some fresh kale in the Blue Moon Farm greenhouse. Photo by Blue Moon Farm.

Photo by Blue Moon Farm.

Smile Politely: Hi! Could you introduce yourself?

Lorien Carsey: My name is Lorien Carsey, and I am co-owner of Blue Moon Farm.

SP: How was Blue Moon started, and who started it?

Carsey: Blue Moon was started by Jon Cherniss and Michelle Wander back in the late 90s. It’s been at its current location at 2184 County Road 1700 east since 1998. I joined as a farm hand in 1999, worked for 5 years, took a break to go to grad school, and then came back in 2009 to manage the winter production. I have been climbing up to ownership ever since. Shea joined in 2015 when we lured her away from the farm she started, Heirloominous Farm. She and I have been taking over both day-to-day management and ownership. We are currently co-owners with Jon and Michelle. Michelle is a soil scientist at the U of I and a constant source of information and science for us.

Farm co-manager Shea adjusts some parts of one of the farm's eco-friendly vehicles. Photo by Blue Moon Farm.

Photo by Blue Moon Farm.

SP: What does a typical day working at Blue Moon look like?

Carsey: There is no such thing as a typical day here, as the weather and the plants dictate all our moves. There are a few constants: we harvest leafy vegetables in the morning when it’s still cool, harvest fruits like tomatoes when the plants are dry. We hoe weeds when they are smaller than the plants, tie tomatoes in the greenhouses when it’s not wet in there; we plant lettuce by hand at the end of the day on Tuesdays.

A few people are washing in the packing shed almost all the time on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. About seven to ten times through the spring or summer, we are sitting on mechanical transplanters dropping starts into the prepared soil. On Wednesdays, we have an assembly line filling boxes for our CSA. On Fridays, we are loading trucks for market, and one of our crew is always split off to do mowing, weed whipping, seeding flats, or seeding our salad greens. Shea or I spend a lot of time on tractors, building work schedules, doing accounting, buying supplies, and trying to keep the ship moving through the water.

SP: Blue Moon Farm is known for being environmentally friendly. What are the most significant steps Blue Moon takes to reduce its carbon footprint?

Carsey: We use a 15kw solar panel system, electric harvest trucks, recycled vegetable oil for greenhouse heating, and recycled wax boxes for packaging.

The Blue Moon Farm staff smiles in front of their beautifully painted farm truck. Photo by Blue Moon Farm.

Photo by Blue Moon Farm.

SP: Could you describe the relationships between the staff at Blue Moon?

Carsey: People tend to like working here. Shea and I have prioritized having a supportive, respectful workplace. People who are attracted to this kind of work tend to be wonderful, so it’s not hard to develop friendship and affection here. That’s not to say that it doesn’t get tense at times with the demands of the job, but we try to stay positive.

SP: How can C-U purchase Blue Moon’s Farm crops?

Carsey: Folks can find our produce at the Common Ground Food Coop, the Urbana farmers’ market, and through our CSA program.

SP: What is the best thing about Blue Moon Farm?

Carsey: The best thing about Blue Moon is our delicious food. I can’t pick my favorite. I love juicy tomatoes, rich eggplant, crispy salad mix, sweet squash, tender turnips, and all that.

A view of the remarkable CU sunset alongside some Blue Moon Farm barns.

Photo by Blue Moon Farm.

SP: How would you describe the view of the sunset from Blue Moon Farm?

Carsey: The sunset here is incredible. Some evenings, the orange and purple streaks last forever, and the horizon stretches as far as you can see. A full moon is reflected on each of our 4 foot bows on our ten high tunnels. The sunrise is different every morning, but always promising. We’ve got a big sky here; it’s one of the Midwest specialties.

SP: What do you think is the best food Blue Moon Farm grows?

Carsey: I can’t pick my favorite!

A strong and healthy farm-grown carrot in front of the beautiful landscape of the Blue Moon fields. Photo by Blue Moon Farm.

Photo by Blue Moon Farm.

SP: How has the farming process changed due to the COVID-19 breakout?

Carsey: Our farming practices haven’t changed, but our work practices have. We are still growing what we normally grow, and farms are considered essential businesses. All our workers wear masks and try to keep away from each other as much as possible.

Many of the guidelines as far as handwashing and sanitation are in line with requirements for food safety, but wearing a mask for 11 hours a day is very difficult. In terms of what has changed for our sales, there is a greater demand for pre-boxed, pre-bagged food so we are spending a lot more time on assembly lines here at the farm. People are doing a lot more cooking at home, so our sales to the Food Coop have increased. It’s gratifying to see how much the community values fresh organic produce. Our CSA is bigger than it ever has been, and we have a waiting list. In the past, the farmer’s market has been the primary outlet for moving volume, but that has changed so far. We have no idea what is going to happen this year, but we are trying to adapt to the circumstances as best we can.

 The 'masked crew' jumps on a truck to move some crops amid this COVID-19 virus. Photo by Blue Moon Farm.

Photo by Blue Moon Farm.

SP: What are some changes to Blue Moon due to COVID-19 that the community should be aware of?

Carsey: We understand that many are afraid to be in public, and we have set up a Wednesday curbside pickup for those who can’t come to the market. I want to emphasize that if you are going to go shopping, the market is one of the safest places to do so.

No matter how difficult things may seem right now, I’m glad to know that Blue Moon Farm will always be a place I can go for some family-driven crops.

Blue Moon Farm
2184 County Road 1700 E

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