Day 316–Finding a Local Farm Near You

 

One of the greatest joys we’ve had on our journey this year is developing relationships with local farmers and farmer’s markets. But we are very fortunate to live an a quasi-urban area that has close proximity to lots of farmland and a great deal of support for small farmer’s markets. We also have several produce delivery services that source from farms statewide. Those resources make locavore living a great deal easier. But how do you find local farms if you don’t have farmer’s markets? Here is a great resource!

 

Local Harvest is a web-based tool that searches by zip code and/or farm type to help you find local food sources in your area! Most farms have a little description of the kind of farming they do, what they grow and roughly what their growing/production season is. I did a search in my area and found several sources that were new to me, including local honey producers!

 

Depending on where you live, you may be able to find the resources you need to buy local produce, meat, eggs and honey all winter long!

 

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Day 118–This Week’s Produce Box

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This week, our veggie fairy named Terri delivered a beautiful box of vegetables plus organic strawberries PLUS cheese. Right to my doorstep. Yes she did. We are set to go with another week’s worth of fresh vegetables, including two kinds of lettuce, two pounds of carrots, beets, an herb bouquet, two quarts of strawberries and a local cheese that is similar to asiago. YUM!

So, what to do with two pounds of carrots? I’m thinking of…pickling! But of course! Pickled carrots sound yummy and will be a continuation of my learning all things pickle. These are supposed to be spicy pickles, which sound pretty good to me. I’m NOT posting this idea on Facebook ūüôā If that doesn’t work out for some reason, I’m thinking carrot soup.

What would YOU do with 2 pounds of carrots???

Day 110–Our First Produce Box of the Year!

The Produce Box is here! The Produce Box is here!

Pulling into my driveway last night, I saw an unfamiliar car behind me. The car pulled into my drive and stopped. Someone looking for directions? Someone complaining about my lack of green grass in the yard? Nope. It was my Produce Box Neighborhood Organizer delivering my first Produce Box of the growing season! Life is good.

I’ve blogged about The Produce Box before (HERE), but this is the first box we have received since last fall, so it merits some additional blog time! The Produce Box sources all its vegetables and farm products (cheese, bread, honey, jam) from North Carolina farms, packages them into CSA-type boxes and delivers them to the house. Members also contribute a small fee (I think it was $3 this year) to provide small grants to local farmers to help address issues on their farms (some of this year’s grants included purchasing seed starting supplies, purchasing refrigeration units, educational opportunities, etc).

Because The Produce Box works with several farms, they do offer a greater variety of vegetables than a traditional CSA, which also reduces the risk of not receiving anything if one farmer has a crop fail. Members can pick among several boxes each week, including an organic box and a small box for folks who can’t consume all the veggies in the standard box. And I have to say it, I love having my vegetables delivered. One thing I can cross of my list. But you know, meeting with and talking to farmers has been a real joy for me, so even though I get my produce box delivered, I’ll still be heading out to the farmer’s markets to pick up anything not in my box as well as cheese, pasta, meat, eggs, etc.

What did we get in our first box? Due to a late season frost last week, this week’s box is smaller than usual, but still a very welcome sight! We received two packages of strawberries, sweet potatoes, spinach, a HUGE head of lettuce, greenhouse cucumbers, and carrots so fresh they still have the dirt on ’em. Yum. Just in time for saladpalooza night!

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Day 61–Coon Rock Farm

Lately I have been buying produce and eggs from Coon Rock Farm, a family owned farm on the Eno River in Hillsborough. From Harukai¬†turnips to fresh carrots and tatsoi greens, everything I’ve purchased has been delicious. At the Western Wake Farmer’s Market a few weeks ago, I tried a sample of their chorizo (it is impossible to pass their tent without trying it since you can smell it cooking and for “some reason” I am always hungry). It was amazing. I keep forgetting to add it to our rotation, but maybe next week.

Coon Rock Farm (www.coonrockfarm.com) is the epitome of “farm to fork”. The Holcomb family not only operates the farm (which dates back to the 1800s), they also operate two highly reputable restaurants, Zely & Ritz in Raleigh and Piedmont Restaurant in Durham. Both restaurants feature the vegetables, fruit, eggs, lamb, beef, pork and eggs produced on the farm.

According to the Holcombs, farm produce is all organic and mostly heirloom varieties (which explains why my carrots were unbelievably “carrot-y” in flavor). All animals are pasture-raised and grass-fed, with no hormones or¬†antibiotics. I love that this is a family all working together to bring us good food while nurturing the young farmers who will continue to feed us into the future.

Coon Rock Farm sells at three local farmer’s markets–Midtown Farmer’s Market at North Hills, Western Wake Farmer’s Market in Cary and the Chapel Hill Farmer’s Market. They also have a CSA which you can read about on their website.

As for the name? Apparently, the name Coon Rock Farm comes from a large rock that juts into the Eno River and has the historical name of “Coon Rock”.¬†¬†Regardless, the food produced by this family is wonderful, sustainable, healthy food,¬†and I for one am looking forward to some chorizo on Saturday!

Day 33–Are You Joining a CSA?

CSA Haul the First

Today is 70 degrees and definitely doesn’t feel like February. But here we are in winter, dreaming of all the wonderful fruits and vegetables yet to come in the next few¬†months.

For CSA (community-supported agriculture) organizations, this is the end of the sign up season. We have just renewed our membership in The Produce Box, which is¬†a modified version of a CSA. I love the concept of the CSA, but the pickup idea just wasn’t working for our schedules (or my memory). Wondering about getting your local veggies this spring and summer? Here are some good options.

CSA

CSAs¬†are membership “clubs” typically organized between a farmer and individual members of the public. In the winter, members purchase¬† “shares” in the farms future bounty and pay anywhere from $400-$500 up-front. This fee gives the farmer funds to purchase seeds, upgrade equipment and get ready for the busy season. Once the farm is producing, each member receives a weekly box or other amount of whatever is harvested that week and this goes on throughout the growing season. The benefits to the farmer are great–he or she knows has money to invest in the farm upfront and has a ready-made¬†customer base (although members don’t pay for the weekly boxes, there are usually opportunities to purchase other items). The benefits to members include a steady supply of fresh fruits and vegetables and having a connection to a community farm. If you want all-organic produce, you can work specifically with an organic farmer. This all works really well unless the weather is bad or there is a blight and farm production is reduced. In that case, it is a good learning experience about the gamble of farming.

Modified CSA

Modified CSAs are membership clubs that work with a select group of farmers, rather than just one and they tend to offer a greater variety of products. Like traditional CSAs, there is usually some up-front or membership fee and after that, they vary widely. Some provide one standard box of produce each week, others give members varying degrees of choice in what is in their box.

Benefits to the farms are the same as a traditional CSA, and include also that the farmer does not have to run a separate business. Benefits to members include a wider variety of produce and a small safety net in case one farmer has trouble producing.

Because modified CSAs are run by a third-party, members should ask a lot of questions, including how much of the weekly or annual payment goes directly to the farmer. Other questions to ask might include:

  • Who are the farmers? Where are their farms located?
  • Can I visit the farms? How can I contact the farmer?
  • How are farmers chosen for participation?
  • How sustainable are the farms in the group? What are their farming protocols?
  • How much of the membership fees/payments are used for overhead (management, marketing)?
  • Can I see the most recent annual financial statement?
  • If all fees are paid in advance, how are these funds managed? Is there a board or is this an individual? Who has authorization to spend the funds and how is the risk of fraud addressed?

I know that last question sounds harsh and it might be hard to ask, but some modified CSAs charge an annual fee of up to $500. That’s a lot of money for a family and if the farmer isn’t in charge of the money, you need to know who is. Just sayin’.

Farmer’s Market

The farmer’s market is still a great way to get the widest variety of locally produced vegetables quickly after harvest. Farmer’s markets are springing up everywhere these days, which is great for consumers. To find a farmer’s market in your area you can go to www.sustainabletable.org¬†and search by zip code.

Benefits to farmers include one-stop delivery of their products and a direct connection with customers. The downside to farmers is that farmer’s markets are a lot of work and their customer base is heavily dependent on the weather that day. Benefits to consumers include the ability to price shop among vendors, ask questions to the farmers themselves (or their family members), and see the amazing variety of seasonal products available in your area.

Farmer’s market caveat: make sure the market where you shop requires vendors to a) grow the food themselves and b) farm within 100 miles or less of your market. This prevents commercial food vendors from selling you the same veggies they are delivering to the supermarket, which often come from another state or country.

Grow Yer Own

Ok, this probably should have been first on the list. Growing your own vegetables or fruits is an incredibly fulfilling¬†task. From my experience, I can say that walking out to your own backyard and picking vegetables for dinner is tremendously satisfying. You can’t get any fresher or more local than that! With a sunny patch and a little know-how, you can produce wonderful results for your family.

Gardening in your yard does have a few requirements: sun, consistent water and patience. My yard lacks adequate sun and once the mosquitoes turn out in force, it’s really hard to make myself water every other night, which is what we have to do when the weather turns hot. So, raising veggies has not really worked for me (more on that in another post this week!), but I do have plans…

The only downside to growing your own vegetables is that if you aren’t successful, you pay for the seeds/plants and still end up buying vegetables elsewhere. That’s where I am and why we joined the flexible CSA.

No matter what your resources, there are options for fresh vegetables coming soon! How will YOU get your veggies this year?

Day 14–Farmer’s Market Spotlight–Rare Earth Farms

Beef cattle at Polyface Farm.

While I was on my very brisk mission to the farmer’s market today, I met Jennifer with Rare Earth Farms, a local farm partnership, and thought I would introduce you to this wonderful, family-owned resource for local beef and lamb.

Rare Earth Farms is a story of farmers and friends. Mann Mullen of Bunn and Karl Hudson of Zebulon, are friends and farmers whose shared interest in sustainable agriculture and the humane treatment of animals led them to found Rare Earth Farms. Their beef is pasture raised (on grass), pasture finished on grass, antibiotic free, steroid free and without preservatives or colorings.

Recently, Mann and Karl entered into a partnership with another friend, Carvel Cheves, who raises lamb with the same care and standards that Mann and Karl put into their beef. Carvel was also inducted into the NC Livestock Hall of Fame, so now you can get your lamb kabob meat from a celebrity (and he is probably much nicer than Kim Kardashian, just sayin’).

Rare Earth Farms has a meat CSA that they are starting in February, or you can find them at the State Farmer’s Market. You can find a price list and contact number on their website as well, so you can preorder what you need (including, apparently, a whole carcass). I may try some lamb soon and I will let you know how that is.

Here is the website, if you’re interested: www.rareearthfarms.com

Day 12–The Produce Box

A single week's fruits and vegetables from com...

I love the idea of a traditional CSA, where you arrive at a meeting place, wait with other earnest, veggie loving people, and leave feeling virtuous with a box of farm fresh produce. The trouble is, I am a terrible CSA participant. Terrible. Pickup day arrives and I invariably have a late meeting scheduled or I get stuck in the carpool line (it’s not a social gathering, Mrs. Volvo Station Wagon!) or…I forget. Most often, it’s the latter. I’m half way to the gym and realize…*@&!$%…veggies! And “resentful” isn’t the way we should pick up our fresh veggies. That just seems so wrong.

So, a friend and neighbor introduced me to The Produce Box. I love those people, I tell you. Rather than waiting with a tapping foot for me to come screeching around the corner, they patiently pack up my order and deliver the veggies to ME! I didn’t realize anyone did that anymore. According to their website, they are “a network of families, farmers, neighborhood moms, and others who all share a common vision–growing and eating food that’s good for you and the planet, from people you know.” I think of them as the “veggie fairies,” but whatevs.

Here is how it works:

  • You pay an annual membership fee of $18. (This fee covers boxes and containers and provides funds for small, board-sponsored grants to local farmers to buy seed, equipment, and make their farms more sustainable.)
  • Each week on Friday, you receive an email detailing the standard (default) box of veggies as well as several alternatives, including an organic box, a fruit box and so on. Each box is about $23.00 and you pick whatever you want or bypass that week altogether and pay nothing.
  • By Sunday night, you go into your account, pick your box for the week, plus any additional add-ons. If you’re like me and you forget, you automatically get the standard box (it’s like they know me). This fall, add-ons included local bread, honey, preserves, apple butter and cheese. Your account is charged when your order is filled.
  • Wed or Thursday, a box of your beautiful, locally grown vegetables and other items arrives on your doorstep.

Voila! No forgetting! No speeding down the highway after a long meeting to get to a pickup location!

I say, “voila!” like this is an easy feat. Really, the entire production depends on a LOT of very dedicated farmers, volunteers and part time employees. I don’t know them, but I love every single one of them. The vegetables we have received have been unbelievably wonderful, very fresh and of excellent quality. The board surveys members in the fall and works with local farmers to plant crops that members have interest in. Pretty cool!

The Produce Box is not operating now, but they will be starting up again in April. Here is a sampling of what they hope to offer in April:

  • asparagus (yes!)
  • cauliflower
  • broccoli
  • green beans
  • onions
  • berries
  • cherries

Interested? The website is www.theproducebox.com

It may be cold and rainy outside, but I’m thinking spring!