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Gardening: Support Your Local Farmer


There's exciting news in the organic community: The word locavore was named New Oxford American Dictionary's word of the year for 2007. A locavore is one who attempts to consume only food that was grown or raised within a 100-mile radius of one's home. The locavore movement encourages consumers to either grow their own food or shop with local farmers at the farmer's market. Locavores seek out locally produced food because they know it is tastier, more nutritious and environmentally friendly.

As spring approaches, Richmond's locavores begin hankering for fresh, local produce. One way to get that better basket of fruits and vegetables is to join a CSA (community-supported agriculture) program. Members make a financial commitment to a local farm, which in turn allows members to receive a weekly share of its harvest. Customers pay in advance of the season for this opportunity, giving the grower an influx of cash at what is typically a cash-poor time of year.

With the support of CSA members, farmers are provided working capital when it is needed most and have a guaranteed market for much of their produce because it is essentially already sold. Consumers feel good about supporting a local entrepreneur and look forward to the fresh-grown produce they will receive during the growing season. "With a CSA it's like Christmas every week," says Stacey Moulds, a member of Amy's Garden's CSA, Garden Share.

But members receive more than just produce: They are provided valuable insight into the intricacies of food production on a small farm, learn loads about the seasonality of food here in Virginia and have the distinct pleasure of having a dialogue with the person growing their food. "What's better than having delicious, nutritious, nongenetically modified, not-loaded-with-pesticides food that came from growers we know?" asks Kerry Mills, another Garden Share member. "This is the greatest awareness we can give [our son] Miles. He knows the people who grow his food and where it comes from."

However, CSA members must realize they are accepting a portion of the risk associated with farming. If tragedy or extreme weather reduces the harvest, this will be reflected in the distribution. On the other hand, if the farm experiences a bumper crop, the CSA members are often the main beneficiaries of the welcome excess.

When the harvest season starts, CSA members are provided with whatever the farm is harvesting that week, typically four to eight different types of vegetables or fruit. Rarely do consumers get to choose what they receive each week. Control freaks and picky eaters, please thoroughly consider your involvement in a CSA; those who love to cook, like to try new things and relish the occasional culinary challenge? Go for it!

CSAs are on the rise around Richmond. The easiest way to find a local farm is to visit www.localharvest.org. Some good questions to ask: What are your growing practices? Are synthetic pesticides, fungicides or herbicides used? What type of fertilizer is employed on the farm? How long has the farm been in business and how many seasons has it been involved in a CSA? What are some of the vegetables you can expect throughout the season? What are the dates of distribution? Is there a work requirement for members? Approximately how many people will a weekly share feed?

Being involved with community-supported agriculture is a great way to jump into the locavore lifestyle. "I live for my Monday delivery," says John Haddad, a longtime CSA member and food writer. "There is nothing like a bag of freshness dropped at your doorstep."

Amy Hicks started Amy's Garden, a certified organic farm, in 1995. Along with husband George Ferguson, she sells specialty produce and cut flowers at local farmers' markets.

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