His CSA Farm Once Fed 500+ Families
Now Arlington native Leigh Hauter wonders if this season will be his last.
Hauter’s remaining CSA members are a devoted bunch. For 20 years, shareholders like Ava and Larry Dowdy have looked forward to that weekly produce pickup. Many have taken advantage of the opportunity to head out to the farm during the pre- and post-season to pick their own vegetables—to see for themselves how their world-class garlic and jalapeños came to be. They like knowing where their food comes from.
Deborah Hartman, a more recent addition to the fold, agrees. “It was kind of amazing to know that Leigh had just pulled or plucked whatever I was getting,” she says.
Though he repeats this refrain nearly every year, Hauter says 2019 might be his CSA’s last season.
The farm is Hauter’s current passion, but not the only one. In the late 1990s, he was director of From the Ground Up, a project of the Capital Area Food Bank and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which brought fresh produce from a Maryland farm into D.C.’s low-income communities.
He has served as the program director for a citizen-action group working on health care issues and the organizing director of a consumer group advancing legal reform. Earlier in his career, Hauter worked as an adjunct instructor of composition and literature at George Mason University (where he also received his master’s degree), a high school English and math teacher, a newspaper stringer, a roughneck on Colorado oil rigs, a house builder and a medical technician. He’s a published novelist and short story writer, too.
He’ll tell you his greatest point of pride is his work as an activist and organizer during the grassroots antinuclear movement in the 1970s and ’80s. “We stopped nukes from thriving,” he says. “People still can’t get nuclear [plants] started.”
During that time, some considered his tactics extreme. In November 1977, he mailed radioactive waste from public lands in Colorado to congressional leaders, governors and corporate mining executives to draw attention to radioactive pollution in public rivers and drinking water. Assuming the recipients would be alarmed, his accompanying letter said, “If the material is so dangerous, what’s it doing in the public domain—lying in fields, in streams, and at the sides of the roads all over the western United States?”
Soon thereafter, Congress passed the Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act of 1978.
Where did his drive to fight authority and advocate for the less powerful come from?
“Vietnam,” he says unequivocally, where he served in the U.S. Army for a year as a combat medic in 1967. When he returned stateside, he began participating in anti-war activities. “I realized I’d been lied to,” he says of the war.
Attending Colorado State University as an English literature major, he founded the campus Vietnam veterans’ anti-war group. “I wanted to change the world,” he says.
Ask him today what kind of legacy he hopes to leave, though, and he sloughs off the question, eager to get back to splitting wood. Referencing a Pete Seeger song, he says simply, “Put me in the compost pile.”
Which, in a way, makes perfect sense. Nourishing the earth and helping living things thrive seem to be his calling.