Let Your Neighbors Grow YOUR Vegetables
By M. D. Drysdale
You say you don't have time for a garden and are resigned to eating supermarket food this summer?
Think again. There's another way.
At a time when food in the United States travels an average of 1300 miles from the farm to people's tables, more and more people are turning to something new that connects farmers and consumers with a personal bond based on good food.
It's called "community supported agriculture" (CSA) and it works this way:
You pay somebody else to do the gardening for you — or to grow a few chickens or a pig for your freezer.
For consumers, CSAs offer a summer of fresh produce and a feeling of connection with the place it is made. Many CSA farmers refer to their customers as an extended family, sending them newsletters and recipes and hosting them in harvest festivals.
In addition, all the CSA farmers in the White River Valley region are certified organic.
For the farmers, the CSA model offers a much-needed commodity — planning reliability. It's a guaranteed way to sell their meat and produce. Because CSAs are at least partly pre-paid, they put money in the farmers' hand at planting time. And because the customers assume some of the risks of farming as well, farmers won'te be wiped out by disastrous weather.
Most CSA farms offer small, medium, and large produce shares ranging in price from $225 to $495. Some offer separate meat shares.
At the Luna Bleu Farm in South Royalton, Suzanne Long and Tim Sanford run one of Vermont's oldest continuing CSAs, operating since 1991 with a growing customer base of 65-70 households.
"We really like the whole CSA concept," Long said this week. "It allows us to have a connection with our members. They almost become part of the farm."
She and Sanford have five acres under cultivation and are assisted in the summer by "apprentices" who live on the farm and some part-time local laborers as well.
Luna Bleu currently offers only produce, not meat. Customers sign up for a market basket that will be produced regularly and will change depending on what's being harvested.
Asked if a customer can take a pass on, say kohlrabi, Long said they could.
"But really, one of our missions is to make people like kohlrabi," she laughed.
People pick up their food either at the farm or at a variety of drop sites from Hanover to Randolph.
The opposite kind of CSA — meat, not produce — is to be found in East Randolph, where Jennifer Colby runs Howling Wolf Farm. (CSAs tend to have colorful names.)
Jenn will be at the Randolph Farmers' Market with produce, but her CSA operation offers chickens, turkeys and pigs, from animals that are given pasture range.
She has 15-20 families signed up and found last year that she could have had more.
"People were knocking on my door for a pig," she said.
She raised six pigs last year and will raise 12 this year, along with a flock of up to 30 chickens, and turkeys as well.
People generally get 1-5 chickens and/or a hole or half pig.
For preparing the poultry, the farm made its own plucking machine last year, which they'll demonstrate at this year's Farm Fest.
The CSA trend "absolutely" is growing, Colby said. "Mad cow disease has really turned a lot of people's heads around," she noted, saying that the market for organic meats is increasing an astounding 35% a year.
"There are lots and lots of customers out there," she said. "We just have to find them."
Here's a listing of community supported agriculture (CSA) farms in the White River Valley. Now's the time to call to become members this summer.
Four Springs Farm
Produce and poultry
Jinny Hardy Cleland
776 Gee Hill Rd.
Luna Bleu Farm
Suzanne Long & Tim Sanford
96 Boles Road
Fat Rooster Farm
Produce & beef, lamb, poultry
354 Morse Farm Rd.
Howling Wolf Farm
Chickens, turkeys, pork Jennifer Colby
2315 Rte 14 South
Tunbridge Hill Farm
Wendy and Jean Palthey
135 Monarch Hill Road
On Four Springs Farm high above the Second Branch in Royalton, Jinny Hardy Cleland is adding a few wrinkles to the CSA plan.
She's operated a CSA there for three years and has about 50 households as customers. This year, she's offering housing as well.
She's built a cabin for five and also offers five tent sites, open for reservation throughout the season. Her focus will be family groups "who want to see what's happening on a farm."
Reservations have begun to come in, she said this week. Eventually a total of four to six cabins are planned.
Guests and CSA families can use the picnic pavilion on the property and will be able to hear naturalists in special programs later this summer. The farm also has a Valley Quest site, providing guests with a self-guided educational tour of the topographical features.
A grand opening for the campground is planned for June 26.
The Herald of Randolph — April 22, 2004