OXFORD, Ga. (AP) — Some small farm farmers are offering two different ways for Newton County residents to support local agriculture: either by purchasing shares in a farm's seasonal offerings or by subscribing to receive an email which lists the week's offerings and prices.
Neither way beats the prices in the big box grocery stores, but both ensure freshly harvested and, for the most part, organically grown, produce. For example, last week, six ounces of baby kale from Flying Horse Farm in Newborn, which notifies customers of what's in by newsletter, was $4. At Yellow Hen Farms, to keep things simple, vegetables are priced at $3, whether it is for one head of lettuce, four ounces of kale or Swiss chard, or three ounces of arugula.
"I'm not trying to compete with Wal-Mart, so you'll find that my prices are higher," said Sara Vinson of Yellow Hen Farm in Covington.
"Our CSA is not free food," said Daniel Parson, Manager of the organic farm at Oxford College at Emory University. "It's not volume food or geared toward canning. Last year was a great year for squash and people were freezing it. This year may not be (good for squash), but could be for tomatoes."
The Oxford organic farm sells its produce by subscription, or Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares. So, too, does Alcovy Organic Farms and Double B Farm. Shares run between $25 and $30 a week for a full share, typically between five to nine items a week of the current crops. (See side bar.)
The definition of season can vary by farm. Oxford offers spring and fall 13-week seasonal shares, and a summer, eight-week share, while Alcovy offers three 12-week seasons with the possibility of a winter season. Double Bee Farm in Oxford offers three 12-week shares at $30 per half share and $50 per full.
There are 50 shares available each season at the Oxford College Organic Farm, Parson said. The spring season begins on April 28, and shares are nearly sold out. However, this year, the farm will sell produce at the city of Oxford's Farmer's Market off of Emory Street, on Thursdays from 3 to 6 p.m. CSA share holders can pick their weekly produce up there as well. There's also a drop off site at Emory University.
Need in the community
The decision to sell this year at the Oxford Farmer's Market came about after Parson and Ruth Geiger, farm apprentice, took part in the recent summit hosted by the Newton County Health Department at the college in March. (See "Parched in Newton's food desert" at http://www.covnews.com/section/1/article/200904/)
"We're inspired by the need of the community for fresh food," Parson said. "We're inspired by the health department telling us we're part of the food desert. We think there's a need here, and we're trying to serve people in our community first."
Oxford farmer Brady Bala, of Double B Farms, offers one-half pound of eight to ten items per week. While he grows most of the produce, sometimes he will augment his offerings with produce from neighboring local farms.
"If I go and package everything up, and I have seven items and just down the road, there's a farm with fresh strawberries, there's my eighth or tenth item," he said. The variation is dependent on the type of produce he's supplying.
"I grow shitake mushrooms, which cost a lot more than lettuce," he said. If mushrooms are in the box, "I'll probably stick closer to eight items."
He said, depending on the week and what can be harvest, he might augment with blueberries, corn or other types of produce he doesn't grow. Subscribers pick up their shares of the harvest in Conyers at Copy Central on Parker Street.
Though his farm is just across the Newton County border in Jasper County, Archie Ballard, of Alcovy Organic Farms, drops off weekly shares of produce near the Mansfield post office between 6-7 p.m. on Friday. His weekly boxes contain between nine and 12 different vegetables. Egg shares are also offered at $65 for the full, 13-week season.
"A full share should be enough food for a family, one serving per person of a fresh vegetable daily," Ballard said. "We prepare the CSA share be paid up front, though we offer a 50 percent now, 50 percent later option.
"What I do for those who pay for a full season upfront is give them a quarter share of eggs (3 dozen)," he said. If they buy two seasons, they get six dozen; three seasons, they get nine dozen; and four seasons, a full share of eggs, or 12 dozen."
Ballard said that he prices his shares competitively because, "I want to help people get fresh, organic produce, help them for health reasons. Normally, when you get a box, (the produce) is within 24-hours of getting picked. We pick fresh the day before."
"When you buy collard greens at the grocery store, you buy a bunch with the main stem," he said. "We harvest individual leaves — so there's not a lot of waste."
The Oxford College organic farm is certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Alcovy Organic Farms will be certified in July. The certification verifies compliance with USDA organic regulations and takes 36-months to prove compliance. Certifications must be renewed every year, and only certified producers can call themselves "organic," according to USDA.
Yellow Hen, Double B and Flying Horse farms are all Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) producers. CNG farms receive peer review certification, and grow crops without synthetic chemicals or genetically modified organisms (GMO). All three compost and build up nutrients in the soil through fertilizers such as blood- or bone-meal, and use only natural pesticides, if any.
Both Yellow Hen Farm and Flying Horse Farm release a weekly list of what crops are available at what price. Customers place an order and the boxes are dropped off at a location weekly.
Yellow Hen Farm drops boxes off on Thursday at Oxford College at 9:15 a.m. and Covington Square at 9:45 a.m. Glenna Wright and her husband Doug of Flying Horse Farm drop off their produce boxes at the Newton County Main Library branch on Thursday at noon. The Wrights also deliver in Madison and Rutledge on Wednesdays.
"Not everyone wants the commitment of a CSA," Wright said. "A lot of our customers have voiced the opinion on other occasions. They had specific things they wanted and they would end up with something they didn't like or didn't know how to cook."
Flying Horse Farms grows "a lot of heirloom vegetables," she said, "those originally introduced no later than the 1950s, though a lot from (varieties) grown as far back as the 1700s. They are seeds that predate the hybrids. Sometimes, they aren't as beautiful as some of the vegetables in the store. Those are bred for a longer shelf life and the flavor has been bred out."
The Wrights say they believe it's important to carry forward seeds that have been supplying food for generations and purchase their organic heirloom seeds online. They had just finished planting heirloom tomato seeds in the hoop house on April 14, when they were interviewed for this article
"We enjoy growing them and all of our customers seem to like them," Wright said.
Vinson said she sends out an email listing out Monday morning. "Most customers order first thing Monday morning because supplies are limited and they know that if they wait until Wednesday, I may not have something they really want."
Both Vinson and the Wrights will confirm the order placed.
Wright said if a customer can't get to the drop off site, "as long as you're in the same basic area, we'll run it to some place. We're still at a size where we can deliver personally."
The table and beyond
Most of the farms grow similar items - varieties of spring greens such as kale, Swiss chard, arugula, collards; beets; sweet potatoes; melon; varieties of squash and other vegetables common to the area. Some may offer berries, watermelons, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower.
Some, like Flying Horse Farm, offer blueberries, ginger and turmeric. Others offer melons and pea and bean varieties. In addition to seasonal vegetables, herbs and eggs, Yellow Hen Farm sells handcrafted soaps, moisturizer, scrubs and an all-natural mosquito repellent.
"If a customer tells me they want something, I'll explore it," Ballard said. "I had a lady ask me about sunchokes or Jerusalem artichokes."
By next year, he said, he expects to be able to provide those as well as asparagus. He's also been asked about duck eggs, and will soon be able to supply those in addition to the variety of different colored chicken eggs he already provides.
"I'll have about 135 chickens laying by the beginning of summer, if not earlier," he said, adding the flock had been quadrupled from the last year to meet customer demands.
And that communications, all of those interviewed said, is what they enjoy about locally-sustained agriculture.
"We've become friends with the people who do business with us," said Wright. "We have a chance to talk. We started off growing for close friends. Now we've found the people we grow for have become our friends."
"There's a reason I sell my produce this way, instead of the grocery store," agreed Parson. "If I did that, I'd never get to know my customers. I hear from customers they like the same thing.
"It's a wonderful thing to have food growing in our communities," he said.
All of the farmers encourage people to come visit their farms and see how food is grown.
"We're on a small scale, and people can visit the farm," Parson said.
"It's important for people to recognize the effort that goes in to growing food," said Wright. "We touch every seed, pick every plant, pick off every bug
"When people come out to see what's actually done, it gives a new appreciation for what's grown," she said.
All agree that there are significant benefits to buying produce and other agricultural products from local vendors.
One benefit, Parson said, is the produce is "way fresher. It takes days or weeks for things to get to the grocery store. We pick and pack the day before. It's as fresh as anything you can get."
Like Parson, Vinson said her customers have said the fresher produce tastes better. "Customers often tell me that they're amazed when lettuce that they purchased one or two weeks ago is still fresh in the refrigerator. They're used to produce lasting only a few days after purchase. I think I've also read that the fresher produce is the more nutritious it is.
"And, environmentally, food purchased locally has a smaller carbon footprint," she said.
Information from: The Covington News, http://www.covnews.com/