By Annie Young
While hobby gardeners idly sift though seed catalogs scheming of spring, full-time famers are hard at work. They have been peeling snow off greenhouses, willing diesel motors to start to lug feed to livestock and amping up websites and marketing outlets. But both gardeners and farmers are gearing up for planting season coming soon. Locavores, people who eat foods grown locally, are also chomping at the bit for fresh produce. Many have already signed up for their favorite CSA program.
CSA you say? Community Supported Agriculture is a term for subscribing to a share of locally produced food for a season. Shareholders pay a fee in the beginning of the spring to a farmer. Then, throughout late spring into early fall, the customers receive a share of food. Typically, the shares are distributed each week.
This partnership is not only beneficial to local food lovers but it supports the farmer as well. The farmer gets payment up-front for seed money and production costs. The subscribers are literally investing in the farm. The farmer and customer share in the harvest be it abundant or weak. Community Supported Agriculture programs take a lot of organization and set-up so farmers don’t jump into the plan lightly. Making sure there are enough shares for everyone is top priority. Farmers don’t want to promise more than they can grow. That’s one of the reasons that shares in CSA programs can sell out fast. It is also a reason why customers feel a strong connection to the farm where they are shareholders. They know that the farmer is deeply committed to them. This relationship builds as the season continues.
Shares are either picked up from the farm or a convenient, central location. Each CSA has a different way to distribute their wares. Times are usually set by the farmer without a lot of flexibility. Farmers spend a lot of time harvesting, prepping and boxing or bagging the food. It is important to get it to the customers as fresh as possible. No one wants soggy, warm lettuce in July. So, once again, commitment is the key to success. Picking up shares on time ensures food is not wasted. Many farmers have policies if customers cannot make a pick up date or even have choices as the day for pickup.
Clarke county boasts a variety of CSA programs that includes vegetables, meats, flowers, eggs and salad greens. Oakhart Farms and Chilly Hollow Farm are established CSAs providing customers with a season full of delights. Oakhart Farm offers a sixteen week program with an innovative Selectable Delectable model. Shareholders go to the farm and select from a variety of produce each week. They choose a share-size quantity of between 8-20 different foods. Many weeks there are even extra quantities of a vegetable for shareholders to enjoy. Instead of the farmer boxing up particular vegetables for each shareholder, the shareholders get to choose the food themselves.
Chilly Hollow Farm offers a twenty week program with two days to choose from for pick-up. They create boxes of shares for each customer filled with seasonal vegetables. All the vegetables are harvested the day of pick up. And, like Oakhart Farm, only Organic methods are used to grow the vegetables. So no synthetic pesticides or herbicides are used. Eggs are also available from Chilly Hollow’s own free range chickens.
Cool Spring Farm is offering a new twist to their CSA this spring. Shareholders can choose from twenty pound, fifteen pound or ten pound shares in an assortment of cuts. Their Angus Beef shares will be available for monthly pick up. Their grass -fed beef is free of antibiotics, artificial growth hormones and Genetically Modified grains. The beef is processed and dry aged in a USDA inspected Certified Humane facility.
Young Harvests’ Gourmet Salad greens is looking to reach a wider audience in Clarke County this year too. They (ahem, we) have provided a small circle with salad shares in the past. This year the Gourmet salad mix, pea shoots and arugula will be available for weekly shares with a pick up in Berryville. Young Harvests will experiment with customers ordering online each week via pick-a-pepper.com. This site enables customers to order from a “menu” of choices each week and pay online as well.
For information about these farms visit or contact: firstname.lastname@example.org www.youngharvests.com; www.coolspringcsa.com 571-238-1931; www.oakhartfarm.com 540-533-3096; www.chillyhollowproduce.com or ChillyHollowFarm@gmail.com
If you are not ready to commit to a Community Supported Agriculture program but still want to share in the local harvest, Berryville Farmers Market is among one of the many thriving markets in the area. Direct marketing to customers allows you to get a chance to sample a variety of farmers’ products while still investing locally.