CSA grows interest in High Country
Sharing is not only caring, it's also emerging as a viable economic model for local farmers.
With the expansion of an established Community Supported Agriculture program, or CSA, and the addition of several individual independent growers, local consumers have more choices than ever in keeping the pantry stocked with fresh produce.
Maverick Farms, a nonprofit educational effort in Valle Crucis, received a grant last year to organize a regional market and connect with consumers.
The High Country CSA sold 50 shares, in which the purchasers invest in a weekly box of fresh vegetables and fruits over the course of the growing season. Farmers get a guaranteed income, and the economic risks are spread over many people and crops, so that if one particular crop fails or bad weather ensues, the farmer has other options to help fill the boxes.
Farmers also get up-front money for seeds and other starting costs and can tailor the subscriptions to suit their particular operations.
In the case of the High Country CSA, 18 farms have joined together to ensure that customers will have variety throughout the season.
"We are in our second year as a multi-farm CSA, working with 18 vegetable farms in the High Country that grow by organic standards to create a 20-week vegetable share," said the CSA's coordinator Franya Hutchins. "We also work with local meat, dairy, bread and other producers to offer extra farm products to our members."
This year, the High Country CSA is doubling membership, and currently has about 50 more shares to sell to reach this year's goal.
The launch grant from the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center has expired, so the CSA is moving toward self-sufficiency this year, an acid test to determine if the model can sustain itself and if there's enough interest in local crops outside the local farmers' markets.
Many CSA participants also sell at local markets, but the CSA shares are more consistent and help farmers make projections in a market that's as ever-changing as the weather.
"We also offer local food each month throughout the winter through the same farms that produce for the summer share," Hutchins said. "In fact, we provided the High Country community with access to fresh local food all the way through this past difficult winter."
The High Country CSA share itself runs 20 weeks June through October, and members have the option of placing orders through participating farmers on a monthly basis from November through April.
For more information on the High Country CSA, contact Hutchins at (828) 963-4656 or (email@example.com)
Bill Moretz of Moretz Mountain Orchards in Green Valley has a diverse CSA with produce, fruits and herbs, but he also augments his offerings early in season with honey, jelly, jam and poultry.
He offers both a 10-week and a 20-week produce program, with a $15-a-week level and a $25-a-week level for each program.
"We're looking at about 35 to 40 shares, depending on what level the shares are," Moretz said.
He's also a regular at local farmers' markets, but he believes spreading the shares out over a full growing season helps farmers offset bad weather weekends or dips in the number of available customers and crops.
"I think the CSA model will be better to keep farms going in this area," he said.
"It gives you a set number of customers and it supports a particular farm in the county. Also, when the farmer retires, he has a consumer base he can turn over instead of selling to developers," Moretz said.
For information on Moretz Mountain Orchards, or to request a share, call (828) 773-3677.
In 2007, Creeksong Farms began a CSA program after nearly 30 years as an operating farm. Members pay at the beginning of the season and receive $25 worth of food each week for 20 weeks. Half shares are also available that receive $15 worth of food each week. Members not only get a weekly bag of food, but also a strong connection to a local farm.
"People get to see and hear what is happening on the farm every week," said farmer Will Thomas. "They know when the tomatoes are coming in, or when the first sweet corn will be available, or if we're having a hard time with a particular crop because of the weather. It's a great opportunity to connect with the farmer, the crops, and the land."
This year, Creeksong Farms is offering 40 full shares. There are two pick up times this year also - one on Tuesday afternoon from 4:30 to 6:30 at the agricultural extension office and the other at the Watauga County Farmers' Market on Saturday mornings from 10:30 to noon.
Creeksong Farms offers beef in their CSA boxes also. They are also hoping to offer eggs by the middle of the summer.
Those interested in joining Creeksong Farms' CSA can e-mail the Thomases at (firstname.lastname@example.org) or call 336-385-6302 during the day. More information is also available at http://www.creeksongfarm.com.