It sounds improbable, but a one-week vacation changed Christa Barfield’s life.
The lifelong Germantown resident and regional billing manager for Mid-Atlantic Retina decided her work-life balance had reached a breaking point. She gave three weeks' notice on Jan. 2, 2018, and booked a solo trip to Martinique for Jan. 23, days after her 30th birthday.
She stayed at two Airbnbs there: one in the home of a Thai chef and the other on a farm in the island’s mountains. She picked them because they had pools. Each stay, however, influenced Barfield’s future. The chef made her tea from herbs in his garden, while her farmer-hosts packed up boxes for the CSA they ran during her visit.
Barfield had never heard of a CSA before, nor had this kind of tea. Both experiences left deep impressions. “I literally came home and wrote out business plans for both ideas,” she said. “It just all lined up, and I was like, ‘OK, let me go do this.’ It was my little Eat Pray Love trip.”
Flash-forward to late 2020: Barfield’s organic tea company, Viva Leaf, has a new storefront in Mount Airy called Grow. Sip. Repeat. Her gardening start-up has bloomed, too. A staff of 12 — including Barfield’s 17- and 12-year-old children — manages two greenhouses in Elkins Park and plots in Roxborough and Barfield’s own backyard.
Their CSA, Farmer Jawn, has 50 members. Ten of them pay a discounted community rate, but all pick up from the same stuff, from the same place, so that “everybody’s on an equal playing field.”
Barfield’s plans for the future include gardening classes, collaborating with chefs and other small businesses, and recruiting more members — especially for the community rate. She’d like to expand into a third greenhouse in Elkins Park, a 5,300-square-foot space she calls Vision House, which would grow food exclusively earmarked for those CSA members.
“We want to grow food for food-insecure families in and around Philadelphia, and I’m not just talking about people that are poor or considered impoverished,” Barfield said of Farmer Jawn’s mission. “I’m really talking about the families that are working 40-plus hours a week — if you have one parent household or two parents, it doesn’t matter — and are still finding it difficult to have good food on the table. That was my story.”
Farmer Jawn community greenhouses are open Fridays, noon to 7 p.m.; Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.; and Sundays 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. 770 Jenkintown Rd., Elkins Park. Viva Leaf Company 6730 Germantown Ave., Philadelphia