“Do something good in the world, Aaron.” Those words from chef John Fleer resonated with Aaron Grier, who with his wife, Anne, owns Gaining Ground Farm in Leicester. At the time of their conversation, Aaron was struggling to find the silver lining in the black cloud of crisis that COVID-19 had brought to restaurants and farmers across the country.
“We always had a [community supported agriculture program], but it has become a much smaller part of our business,” he says. “When Fleer moved to town, he put his back behind us, purchasing our produce for his restaurants, which gave us support to expand and supply more restaurants. That became a large part of our business, with the other big component the North Asheville Tailgate Market.”
The mid-March shutdown of in-house restaurant dining and the subsequent (and ongoing) delay of the NATM season opening planned for April 4 was a one-two punch for small farmers like Grier.
“I was talking with John about it all, and he told me he was cooking with Mark Rosenstein and Hanan Shabazz at the Southside Kitchen, working with David Nash at the Asheville Housing Authority to feed residents. The last thing he said to me was, ‘Do something good in the world, Aaron.’”
The seed Fleer planted with Grier germinated into an idea to reinterpret the concept of CSA shares from carefully curated boxes for individuals to larger community shares that will supply Southside Kitchen with weekly deliveries of fresh produce while supporting small farmers.
Thanks to a team of local design and marketing experts who jumped on board to help, the We Give a Share website went live the second week of April. There are four donation levels available, with the nonprofit arm of the Housing Authority of the City of Asheville acting as a pass-through to make contributions tax deductible. The money from the shares purchased will go to the farmers; the produce they grow will go to Southside.
“Instead of buying a share for yourself, you’re buying a share that will be prepared into meals for people in need,” Grier explains. “We won’t be taking Southside the box with 13 different vegetables. It will be very intentional: hundreds of dollars of tomatoes and hundreds of dollars of potatoes.”
Grier says he hopes We Give a Share becomes larger than Gaining Ground and Flying Cloud Farm, which is also signing on to the program. “It’s checking two boxes — it’s supporting local agriculture and supporting the underserved,” he explains. “We want to see this replicated across the country and continue after this crisis is over. There will always be need. We can always do good.”
For more information and to donate a share go to wegiveashare.org.