After only one season of farming, Joe Evans of Paper Crane Farm in Marshall knew he wanted to start a Community Supported Agriculture program. “I want to connect with more people on the food front,” he says. “CSA members provide a crucial supporting role … They’re an extension of the farm, keeping it alive when nothing’s really growing — at least in the soil.”
Evans developed an interest in agriculture while volunteering for organic coffee farms in Central America. From there, he worked on farms in the West before moving to WNC to hone his skills as an intern. “I never left,” he says. “The farming community here is super supportive and has enabled me to farm on my own.”
Of course, being a new farmer is not without its difficulties. “The biggest challenge for me is being a sharecropper [a landowner allows Evans to farm the land in exchange for a percentage of the crop],” he says. “It does have its advantages, too, but sometimes you wonder, ‘Will I even be farming here next year?’”
Meghan Cole also knows the challenges of being a new farmer. In 2006 she received a degree in environmental studies with a concentration in sustainable agriculture from Warren Wilson College. After managing a CSA farm in California, she headed back to WNC, branching out entirely on her own as Harvest Table Farm in Old Fort.
“There’s been a steep learning curve [in] establishing a relationship with the new land, new equipment, new customers and community, re-acclimating to the climate of the Southeast in general and discovering the microclimates for the area where I farm,” she says. But for Cole, the customers and community are what it’s all about.
This year is her second season, so she already knows how CSAs create the community connection Evans is looking for. “CSAs help folks connect with the food that they eat — where it was grown, how it was grown and who grew it. I have also found that CSAs help to inspire food traditions and encourage members to share recipes and to connect with one another.” She adds that last year her customers regularly emailed her in excitement about their box’s content and to share favorite recipes. “I love it when I see folks getting excited about vegetables!” she says. “Sometimes my members are my cheerleaders if they know I’m working through difficulties on the farm.”
Rah rah veggies
“Our area has changed drastically in the last 10 years,” says Alan Salmon of Wildwood Herbal Farm in Weaverille, recognizing the growth in a community ready to cheer for local food. Salmon and his family have been in business more than 30 years. While they’ve always focused on providing greenhouse plant starts and herbs, three years ago they began growing vegetables as well. And this year, they’ll offer a CSA for the first time.
“We realized through networking that there were a lot of people we could reach with our fresh vegetables,” Salmon says. So, their son, Seth, who recently graduated from Appalachian State with a degree in alternative energy, is returning to the farm to try out the new venture. The family will also start a new aquaponic program this year to begin raising tilapia. They hope to have fresh fish by October to include as an option for farm share members (and retail customers). Their CSA is officially called Flying Fish Farms.
“It’s a learning curve for everyone — for us and the customers, too,” Salmon says, clearly more excited than nervous. “We’re doing this to make our farm more sustainable, to develop another aspect of our farm and let our son build his own customer base.”
Flying Fish will be a “market-style” share, a new trend in CSAs. In Flying Fish’s case, customers will come out to the farm on Friday afternoons and pick out what they’d like for the week, including add-ons like meat, eggs and breads from others in the local food community. Evans will also offer a market-style share this year (along with a traditional CSA). “It gives members a direct choice in what they consume, and it means they don’t lose a share if they don’t come one week,” Evans says, adding, “It’s the members’ responsibility to use up their credit before the year’s end. No rollover here!”
Cole will again offer a traditional-style CSA, with pickups for weekly boxes of produce she selects and compiles at the Black Mountain Tailgate Market, the West Asheville Tailgate Market and in Old Fort. This year, she’s added potatoes, sweet potatoes, okra, garlic, sunflowers and more melons, winter squash and pumpkins to her offerings. And, she’s created an online forum space for members to “connect with one another and share recipes, help with share pick up and more.”
In other words, it all comes back to community. “In working for other farms that have offered CSAs, I’ve seen some truly great relationships develop,” concludes Evans. “CSA members are like a family member of the farm. I mean, they’re definitely closer than cousins. When was the last time you shared food with your cousin?”
Find these farms and more at the fair
Paper Crane Farm, Harvest Table Farm, and Wildwood Herbal Farm (Flying Fish Farms), are just three of 20 CSA providers exhibiting at ASAP’s second CSA Fair, a free event on March 29 from 3 to 6 p.m. at the Grove Arcade in downtown Asheville. Find a full list of participating farms above and more information online at asapconnections.org/csafair.html.
Farmers will be on hand to discuss their offerings, the costs of their shares, and other details. Many will also sample their farm products and offer other surprises. “For us, food is our art as well as our craft,” says Evans, teasing about an “interactive, educational aspect” of Paper Crane’s booth.
Did you miss the CSA Fair? Browse the nearly 100 area farms offering CSAs in ASAP’s online Local Food Guide at http://www.buyappalachian.org. Paper Crane Farm can be reached at email@example.com or 689-5860. Harvest Table Farm http://www.harvesttablefarm.com can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 772-4206. And Wildwood Herbal Farm can be reached at email@example.com or 645-4342.
— Maggie Cramer is ASAP’s communications manager. She can be reached at 236-1282 or firstname.lastname@example.org.