Friday, February 5, 2010

Snow Chickens and CSAs

Dean Mullis of Laughing Owl Farm gave me permission to use this picture of his chickens up in Stanly County. It's also a good excuse to think about spring and CSAs.

If you missed my story in The Observer's Local section, here's what you need to know: It's time to sign up for a CSA if you're interested. CSA, Community-Supported Agriculture, is sort of a subscription to a farm's harvest. You pay for a share, usually $400 to $750. In exchange, for 20 to 26 weeks (it varies by farm, just like the price), you get a percentage of what the farm harvests that week. You usually pay up front, in the early spring, so the farm has money to plant all the stuff they'll harvest in the summer.

If you're interested in a CSA, now is the time. Many popular farms have waiting lists, but there are new farms joining the list every year. The best ways to find them are to either ask around at farmer's markets (giving you another reason to discover the markets that are open in winter), or go to a Web site like and search their database.

You can also keep an eye out on social media: A number of farms now have either e-mail newsletters, blogs or even Facebook pages. Following real farms beats the heck out of Farmville. I've even heard Dean Mullis is trying to learn Twitter. (No, Dean, you don't get on by scattering feed in the hard drive.)

CSAs have always been the ultimate grassroots business model, and people are finding all kinds of variations on them. Originally, some farms offered a work-pay plan, where you reduced the cost of your share if you spent a little time working for the farm. Those have gotten more rare. Many farms don't offer that option; some offer only a few slots for it. Sweat equity sounds great, but for farmers, it's not all that efficient to have untrained workers pawing around in the fields.

But a lot of other models have sprung up. Some farms offer half-shares. Some families go in together to split a share. I've even heard of churches where members pitch in to buy a share, then use the food for their emergency pantries and feeding programs.

Maria Fisher of Fisher Farms is trying a new model. In the past, she guaranteed her members seven items in their bags. But she found she could harvest five things and bag them with no problem. It was items No. 6 and 7 that were killing her. So she's offering what she's calling a Supportive Buying Club: You pay $150 for $200 worth of food, as long as you pick it up at the Charlotte Tailgate Market in SouthEnd on Tuesdays. With the money you have left over, she hopes you'll buy more from other farmers at the market.

I'll confess: Even after reading Maria's newsletter and talking to her about, I don't quite understand it. But she swears it will work, it will make her life easier and it will bring in more business when the Tailgate reopens this spring. Contact her here if you want to sign up. Or just explain it.


PalmettoGirl said...

Thanks for the recommendations, but even more, thanks for including the "chicken-in-snow" (sounds like a recipe, doesn't it?) photo. Thanks for sharing!