Bringing Local Food to Your Community

How does Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) work, and what is it? The details vary as greatly as there are different types of farms and farmers. Most of what we read about CSA farms is from up north where the season is short and specific. The challenges are different in the South which has longer and more defined seasons. In the South, spring is spring and summer is summer with months in-between fall and winter. Beets and lettuce will not be available at the same time as tomatoes and water melon. It is up to the farmers to explain the seasonal availability to their CSA Members.
We have been providing CSA memberships for over 24 seasons now, about 12 years, delivering to 13 different drop-sites serving our local communities. Every year we tweak the program to best fit our needs with the members we serve. I have also spent time talking with other farmers and the challenges they face in serving their members. After some reflection, I would like to share what the ideal CSA arrangement would be for most of the producers, the type of CSA program that our farm will be promoting in the future.
Before January, a minimum of 30 families get together, usually organized by an individual coordinator, interested in finding a local farm to provide seasonal vegetables to their group, in this circumstance, they are a pre-existing community. After contacting and inspecting a local farm, the group secures a drop-site location (preferably a home, business, church or community center) and collects pre-payments providing the farmer with the income needed to begin planting for the season. While the farmer is preparing fields, planting seeds in the greenhouse, adding amendments to the soil, gathering irrigation and other supplies, the group coordinator is planning volunteer rotations from the group and how to best manage the drop-site.
Once the season begins, the coordinator will be the liaison between the farmer and the CSA Members. On a scheduled day each week, the farmer will deliver cases of produce to be divided by the members when they pick-up. The farmer may have the added expense of providing delivery to the group, but the service provided by the Coordinator allows the farmer to focus more upon the production of food rather than the marketing.
In the past our farm offered a monthly payment plan, however, this does not always provide the commitment from the members that is necessary for a CSA to be successful. It is not uncommon for some members to drop out in the middle of the season, due to vacation or other personal reasons, leaving the farmer to hold the bag with produce that they had previously committed to purchasing, at the farm's expense. Today we offer seasonal payments, better insuring our member's commitment.
So, to break-down the steps on how to bring local food to your community:
  1. Ask your business, church or community center to host a drop-site (help them understand how this can be a valuable community outreach program).
  2. Find at least 30 families or individuals interested in participating in a CSA Program.
  3. Schedule a meeting for the farmer to come out and explain the program to everybody, or plan a farm tour.
  4. Members pre-pay online to secure the farmer’s work for the season.
  5. Get organized, hopefully with a designated Coordinator to work out the details.
  6. Get ready for good food! When the season begins, you will experience a fresh difference, enjoying food like it was meant to be.
If you are interested in bringing food to your community in the Houston area, please give us a call, 979-251-9922 or 979-530-7992 (cell).
- Farmer Brad

“You Changed My Life!”

This is a comment I recently received from one of our faithful CSA members last weekend during our Monthly Market Day. It’s a remarkable statement, and really one of the most fulfilling rewards anyone could receive, to hear that you have impacted someone’s life for the better. It’s understandable if you are a mother, teacher, doctor or minister, but a farmer? It seems a little strange that we can change people’s lives with our "simple" work.

Real food and fresh food has become extraordinary in America. Our work is reuniting people with one of the most basic and elemental necessities in life. We try not to take it for granted, eating fresh and in season everyday. “You changed my life” seems incredibly profound, but it is something that I have been experiencing more frequently. At least once a year I hear this feedback from our members, and it always stops me in my tracks as I have to gulp back the tears realizing that the path we have chosen as farmers is to serve others and to love our neighbors with blood, sweat and tears. These words are what keep me going. They make it all worth it. Thank you!

Yours in the harvest!

-Farmer Brad

PS: May our humble works inspire you to be a local food evangelist in your community. Have you hugged your farmer today? (They could use one.)


A Message from the MacGregor School Gardens

The MacGregor Elementary School garden has made amazing transformations in just a matter of a month. I drew four garden designs, focusing on beds for each grade level and after school classes. After some design advice from Gracie Cavnar and Brad Stufflebeam, who owns and operates Home Sweet Farm and is president of TOFGA, the “Sun and Moon” design was approved for the garden by Dr. Patricia Allen, principal of MacGregor.

Board Member Glen Boudreaux of Jolie Vue Farms contacted Jimmy Gibson, of Gibson Landscaping Company, to scrape off the existing grass and level the area with sand. Mr. Gibson generously donated his company’s time and equipment for this invaluable service. Garden beds were staked, and on June 8th, 100 volunteers from PriceWaterhouseCoopers built the 19 raised beds.

Now we are in the process of laying irrigation to each bed. The next PWC volunteer work day is June 22nd. Come and join us as we finish up--filling the beds with soil and laying sod in the pathways. During the school year, the students will beautify the garden with art, a sundial,
and benches—and of course plant our first seeds. It’s been incredible to watch it all come together.

Thank you to the GLC crew, PWC volunteers, and RFS staff and board. It wouldn’t be possible without you!

Sharon Siehl
Recipe Gardens Coordinator

Local Trumps Organic?... or "Beyond Organic"

Part 2 of 2
Glen Boudreaux
Jolie Vue Farms
Brenham, Texas

Last week we briefly traced the evolution of the organic movement, and it went pretty much like this:
-a halting start by a small group of radicals
-development of the lost art of true organic farming
-the foodies of the world respond and trigger the inception of Whole Foods Market and others
-Big Food gets interested due to surging demand and involves the USDA
-Industrial Organic is the result. Not a bad thing, but certainly not the same thing as true organic.

So, bringing the story up to date, did Big Food take the market away from the true organic farmers? Yes and no.

Yes, in the sense that consumers can now get a form of organic produce at their grocers'. No, in the sense that 1) demand for nutritious food that does not also spoil the environment or treat earth's creatures cruelly has grown commensurately with the expansion of supply, or perhaps faster, and 2) farmers have become quite entreprenurial, moving beyond organic to a place that is superior - local and sustainable as well. And it will be harder for Big Food to take that superior product away because their systems have difficulty operating locally rather than globally.

What is the local/sustainable market? How does it differ from simply "organic"? The differences are important. These are some of the factors that distinguish the two brands.

Local and sustainable puts its emphasis on food production and delivery systems that occur in close proximity to the consumer and enhances rather than depletes the farming resources of your community. The advantages are many, including but not limited to these several points:

-there is nothing more tasty or nutritious than food the day it is harvested. The longer it is stored after harvest, the more it deteriorates in both respects. Most of us know the taste deteriorates, but might not have considered that the nutrients are doing the same. Recent studies have demonstrated the loss of nutrients as shelf life increases.
-industrial organic depends upon a very limited variety of plants that have been developed for quick growth and shipping hardiness, not nutritional values. Local farmers can afford to grow the heirloom varieties, thus giving you the diverse nutritional values and a product that has reached its nutritional maturity on the vine or plant - shortly before you eat it.
-food that is grown where you live is more compatible with your system. We see this truth in plants and animals, so assume it is true with humans as well. One will always have trouble bringing seed in from Wisconsin and making it prosper here. That seed has adapted itself to a different geographic place. Similarly, your body is going to more quickly recognize plants growing naturally in southeast Texas, thereby utilizing that plant's values more completely.
-when you eat from the local, sustainable harvest, you are not only supporting your neighbors, you are improving your environment.

As the Europeans say, "eat your view".

Yours in the local harvest,