As the growing season winds down, farmers like Adam Silverstein, owner of Round Earth Farm, are harvesting their final crops of carrots, cucumbers and squash.
Others, like Betsy Austin, owner of Circle A Garden five miles south of Montrose, extends the season with solar heated greenhouses and unheated hoop houses.
Adam and Betsy are among a new breed of farmers who are promoting the benefits of sustainable agriculture through CSAs. With CSAs, members purchase subscriptions at the beginning of the year, providing a grower with the funds he or she needs to purchase seed, fertilizer and everything else that goes into producing a crop. In return the member receives a box of fresh picked produce and/or fruit — and in some cases meat and flowers — periodically throughout the growing season.
Dr. Ron Goden of the Colorado State University Agricultural Research and Experiment Station on Rogers Mesa has watched the number of area CSAs sprout up as rapidly as toadstools after a refreshing rain. Last year he counted eight to 10; this year an additional seven or eight have cropped up.
From pumpkins and gourds, to peppers and tomatoes, CSAs provide members with nutritious fruits and vegetables, while re-acquainting them with their food source.
Betsy Austin’s CSA includes a work requirement; Don Lareau of Zephyros Farms simply invites people to spend some time unwinding in the peaceful surroundings. When they come to his Powell Mesa farm to pick up boxes laden with kale, chard, cabbage, basil and sweet corn, he encourages them to swim in the pond and take a stroll through the gardens.
“People are expected to get their hands dirty while they find out what goes into growing their food,” Austin says. “We want our CSA members to realize that food doesn’t necessarily come washed and neatly packaged in a little plastic wrapper — there’s a lot of work that goes into it.”
CSA members also share the risks which are inherent in farming. If the grasshoppers nibble on the potatoes, or the tomatoes simply fail to thrive, there will be no harvest to share.
“It’s not like going to the farmers’ market and getting to pick what you want,” Adam Silverstein explains. He plans to solve that problem somewhat next year by pricing his shares so there’s a little money left to purchase produce from other growers when he doesn’t have a crop. “That will help support other growers, assure a more reliable harvest for the CSA members and make our load a little less,” he says.
Silverstein was involved in CSAs in California before moving to his farm on Powell Mesa. The advantage over retail or wholesale markets, which he’s also tried, is the cash flow in the spring.
“Typically a farmer doesn’t have any cash coming in until harvest begins in July or August,” he says. With CSAs, most people pay upfront — especially when they’re offered a discount — and he doesn’t have to go out and borrow money to get his crops planted.
“Hopefully it’s a great deal for the consumers, too,” he says. For the price of a full share (about $25 a week), consumers reap about $35 worth of fresh produce at the peak of harvest. People are increasingly interested in procuring their food locally, including chefs at the pricey restaurants in Aspen, Telluride and Crested Butte.
“There’s a lot of interest in food from the North Fork Valley,” Silverstein observed. “They used to just talk about it — now they’re getting serious about it.”
Dave and Sue Whittlesey’s CSA is centered around the buffalo meat which they raise on High Wire Ranch. Once a month, members get a box of buffalo meat with a variety of cuts — steaks, roasts, ribs, osso buco, ground meat or sausages — along with recipes and cooking tips.
“Essentially it works out to about a quarter over a year, but the monthly deliveries really work for people who don’t have freezer space,” Sue says.
Processing is done at Cedaredge Meats, so the buffalo is locally grown from start to finish. The herd is 100 percent grass fed; the meat is about 90 percent lean.
The Whittleseys also raise elk on their Redlands Mesa ranch, but because an elk produces just half as much meat as a buffalo, they sell the elk meat by the cut.
“The whole reason we got into CSAs is because we do so many farmers’ markets,” Sue explains — a sentiment which was echoed by several farmers who have launched CSAs.
“We do five farmers’ markets a week,” Sue says. “My husband and I do Aspen, Telluride, Ridgway and Carbondale and our son, who lives in Denver, does a farmers’ market in Boulder. We don’t want to be gone from the ranch so much.”
“If I have my members come out to the farm to pick their stuff up, I’m able to have an income without leaving the farm,” Betsy Austin says. “I used to do three markets a week — that was three days a week I wasn’t on the farm growing anything. The CSAs give me more time to do what I really enjoy doing, which is growing.”
Don Lareau, who operates Zephyros Farms with his wife Daphne Yannakakis, has a standard vegetable share as well as shares which include eggs and a weekly bouquet of flowers. Although they’re in their fifth full season on the farm, this was the first year they pursued CSAs in earnest. Don would like to see the number of members grow to 20 or 30 so they won’t have to sell so much produce outside Delta County.
“There’s a lot of potential here,” he says. “We just have to take it slow and learn as we go. The challenge is to make a share pay for itself in a way where people are still willing to commit to it.”
As Adam Silverstein observes, the economy in Delta County has changed over time. There seems to be more disposable income and less time to deal with a garden. Perhaps that’s one reason the number of CSAs has just about doubled this year.
Although harvest is winding down for this year, the folks with CSAs would be happy to talk about subscriptions for next summer. Check the box on the left for CSAs which belong to the Valley Organic Growers Association. blog comments powered by Disqus