TOANO — Michelle Gulden has been farming for more than 20 years, but, her family-owned KelRae Farms extends past the crop border and right into the heart of the community.
More than “just” a farm, KelRae, named by combining the Gulden’s daughters’ first names, hosts and participates in many sustainability and educational projects.
KelRae has a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. This allows people to join its share crop program and receive either a bushel or a peck of freshly grown produce every week during harvest season.
“I like to experiment with specialty melons,” Gulden said proudly, “Being in the CSA, you get whatever is coming in for that week. So, those customers need to be a little bold. When we first started growing yellow seedless watermelon, one week the only melon available was the yellow seedless. So, it pushed people out of their comfort zones and allowed them to try something new. And, they all loved it!”
When the pandemic hit, as a non-essential business, Gulden said they needed to reevaluate, and KelRae Farm Food Hub was launched. The venture has taken off and currently, there are more than 45 producers and small farmers who participate in the only local food hub program.
“The food hub helped us build a community team with other small farmers and local businesses. We are able to pull our resources to one spot and let locals shop online,” said Gulden, “The hub market opens every Friday morning and remains open for orders through Monday night. Then, all the orders are brought here for Thursday pick up, all at one place. Giving people the opportunity to conveniently shop local from many small businesses and farmers.”
“It’s not about just giving food, it’s about knowing your clients and knowing what they can utilize to decrease waste,” states Gulden.
Local children benefit through the Gulden’s participation in the Farm to School program with James City County schools and coordinated school field trips.
The summer camp program for children aged five to 14 begins the last week of June.
“Summer camp is very hands-on,” Gulden continues, “Participants learn all things about typical farming from animal care to harvesting crops. We also do a cooking exercise with them using what we harvest from the farm too.”
A garden share program with William & Mary is another way KelRae gives back to the community.
“We’ve worked with William & Mary for ten plus years,” said Gulden, “Students from the college come out to the farm where we mentor them and they raise crops that they take back into the school dining halls.”
The general public is invited to come and see the farm or shop when harvest season begins in mid-May. KelRae will be open Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays through the fall.
You can also find its produce at the Williamsburg Farmers Market.
While life on a farm can be difficult, the support of neighbors and the surrounding community makes up for it.
“It has been phenomenal,” said Gulden while gesturing to her land, “You are only as strong as your community and I can honestly say we couldn’t do what we do with them.”