Cher and Eric Smith each lost a parent to cancer; Robin Verson's mother had cancer. All felt strongly that there was a connection between the disease and the chemicals in our food, and so they each turned to organically grown products. In fact, all became such strong believers in organic foods that they turned their interest into a community-minded mission. Both the Smiths and Verson, along with her husband Paul Bela, are part of the international organization Community Supported Agriculture (CSA); each couple operates their own organic-certified farm in southern Kentucky, just across the Tennessee border.
“We strongly believe in buying locally and eating seasonally,” says Hill & Hollow's Verson, but she could be speaking for anyone involved in organic farming, whether as a grower, seller or buyer.
The CSA movement began in 1965, when a group of Japanese women became concerned with the use of pesticides, the increase in processed and imported foods, and their effects on small, local farmers. They initiated a direct, cooperative relationship in which local farmers were supported by consumers on an annual basis. They called it teikei, which literally translated means “partnership” or “cooperation,” but can be more evocatively translated as “food with the farmer's face.” They believed it was important that consumers have a trusting, knowledgeable relationship with the growers of their food.
The movement came to the U.S. in 1984, with a small apple orchard at Indian Line Farm in South Egremont, Mass. The concept remained simplefarmers offered presold shares of their harvest to consumersbut it took off in popularity. Within four years, the Indian Line CSA had expanded from 30 to 150 members, and today the CSA concept has spread across the nation; more than 1,000 such farms are supported by members of their local communities.
Typically, farmers presell shares in midwinter so that they can plan their crops and purchase their seeds for planting beginning in February. Weekly distribution of the harvest typically begins in May and lasts about 20 weeks. A full share is usually enough to feed a family of four or a couple on a vegetarian diet.
In return for supporting the local farmer, shareholders receive a wide variety of freshly picked, usually organic vegetables grown in an ecologically responsible manner. CSA, headquartered at Edison College in southern Pennsylvania, emphasizes that organic food produced in local communities is preferable to the organic food sold in national grocery and market chains.
“In a grocery store, you can find almost anything at any time of the year,” Verson explains. “But it is not being grown locally; it's being trucked in from other parts of the country. People who participate in CSAs don't know exactly what they'll be getting every week, but they do know that it's only eight hours from when it was picked and, in most cases, certified organic.”
Eric and Cher Smith met on a farm in Tennessee, proposed to each other in a chicken coop and were married in 1999. “We have been growing food together since we met, and started looking for our own little haven, trying to get a CSA started,” Cher says. They are currently leasing 120 acres in Gamaliel, Ky., called Bugtussle Organic Farm, though only about two acres of that is cultivated for food production. Last summer, they sold some of their harvest to John Dyke at Good Earth Market in East Nashville and at the Nashville Farmers Market. This will be their first year as a fully operational CSA, offering full and half-shares on a 20-week schedule. They also own 85 Araucana chickens, whose notable distinction is laying blue- and green-colored eggs, and a beehive that should begin producing honey this year.
Robin Verson and Paul Bela live with their son Sasha on the 87-acre Hill & Hollow Farm Edmonton, Ky., where about three acres of the wooded land will be used to grow herbs and vegetables for their third season as a CSA. They also met while working on an organic farm, and almost immediately began planning their own farm to operate as a CSA. “We chose this because we are committed to organic farming, and we are social people,” Verson says. “CSAs are the best of both worlds; you come to know your customerwhat they want, what they use, how they liveand they know you. We even named a patch of sweet corn after one of our shareholders.” Verson and Bela also have organic eggs and sell Kenny's Country Cheese, handmade by a neighbor.
Shares to both Bugtussle Organic Farm and Hill & Hollow CSA are currently being sold. The 20-week delivery season, using the Nashville Farmers Market as the pickup point, begins in mid-May (depending on the weather). A full share is a half-bushel basket of vegetables, and a half-share is half of that. Each basket is prefilled at the farm, but Robin and Paul of Hill & Hollow also tote along crops such as garlic, basil, cilantro and hot peppers, from which shareholders can take their fill. Customers also usually choose their own tomatoes.
John Dyke at Good Earth Market, located on Woodland Street, actively seeks out farmers like Verson, Bela and the Smiths. In addition to selling locally grown organic produce daily, he hosted the Harvest Days celebration this past fall on the lawn next to his store's parking lot. Both Hill & Hollow and Bugtussle, along with about 10 other local farmers, set up tables and sold their products. “I am totally committed to local growers, and this was a way for my customers to meet the farmer,” Dyke says. “It was incredibly successful, and we are planning more for this summer. We try to promote not just organic foods, but eating in season.” Dyke will be holding an organizational meeting of local growers soon to try to ensure that Good Earth is able to offer a little bit of everything throughout the season, and to encourage farmers to stagger their crops more and extend the growing season.
Shares in the Bugtussle and Hill & Hollow CSAs must be reserved by mid-February. A full share in Bugtussle is $475, and a full share in Hill & Hollow is $440. Contact Cher and Eric Smith at Bugtussle Organic Farm by calling (270) 427-8315 or by e-mailing email@example.com. Contact Robin Verson and Paul Bela at Hill & Hollow by calling (270) 432-0567 or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Good Earth Market is at 970 Woodland Street in East Nashville; open 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Mon.-Sat. and 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sun.