Cultivating community-based agriculture
The High Country Community-Supported Agriculture project has harvested a successful first year, with plans to expand next year.
The effort to match growers with consumers and provide a steady supply of fresh vegetables and other farm goods was launched by Maverick Farms, a non-profit educational organization. The goal is to develop a regional network and market to enhance the local food supply and create a steady market for growers, as well as giving them some "seed money" to plant their fields.
Beginning June 2, participating shareholders have shown up once a week to pick up their boxes of fresh produce. Share sizes generally fill a box and are designed to feed a family of four, with the week's harvest divided from whatever in-season crops are available from participating farms. Watauga, Ashe, Alleghany, Wilkes and Avery counties are represented, with the pick-up location at Bare Essentials in Boone.
Franya Hutchins, marketer for the community-supported agriculture project, said with the season winding down, Maverick Farms wants to plant the seeds for a successful follow-up.
"It's been really excellent," Hutchins said. "We went though with a balanced budget and 48 different types of crops."
The CSA will have a pick-up next Tuesday, the final of 20 weeks of crops and scheduled around the traditional first-frost dates. The pick-up location became not only a place to discover locally grown vegetables, but it also emphasized the "community" part of the effort.
"Every once in a while, you'd get something you haven't had before," Hutchins said, with shareholders also talking about their recipes as they gathered each week.
Participants talk about different storage and preparation methods for their food, and the uneven weather led to some surprises and disappointments in the garden.
"It was a challenging growing season because after a couple of years of drought, we had several weeks of rain right at the start of the growing season," Hutchins said. "Having multiple farms, we were able to pull together full shares every week. We're getting positive feedback from the growers and consumers. Everybody seems really happy with how it went this year."
The share boxes had an average of 10 different vegetables a week, as well as a fruit share. CSA members bought almost $700 in additional meat, eggs and cheese through the CSA, generating more than $26,000 in local food sales over the 20 weeks of operation.
Thirteen vegetable farms, a fruit farm, two meat farms and a goat dairy participated this year, with 50 full consumer shares sold. Since some of the shares were split up, about 70 families took part in the program, Hutchins said.
Next year, Maverick Farms hopes to double the consumer membership and add more farms, reaching a level that will allow the program to become a bigger part of the local agricultural scene.
"We hope next year to be self-sustaining and become a permanent fixture of the local food economy," Hutchins said.
Maverick Farms received a grant from the N.C. Rural Center to administer and manage the program this year, with the grant ending in December. The remainder of the grant year will be spent in planning and budgeting for next year.
"If all we need is 100 families, we should be able to do that," Hutchins said. "There is so much enthusiasm and there's a lot of local interest in buying local food, especially food that grades organically. It's a really good time to be building up our local food infrastructure."
Every season will offer different growing challenges, and Hutchins said the CSA wants to continue expanding offerings and discovering ways to provide food throughout the winter, since some growers have cold-frame greenhouses or crops that continue producing in cold weather.
"Another aspect of local food is having it available consistently, and we're working on that as well," she said.
For more information on High Country CSA. call (828) 963-4656.