Thursday, July 24, 2008

Community-supported farm growing popular

Model could be copied by other farmers, manager says

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Raphael Talisman⁄The star
Alis Adjahoe of Upper Marlboro, a participant in the Community-Supported Agriculture Program at the Clagett Farm in Upper Marlboro, weighs fresh peppers Tuesday as she picks up her share of the produce she helped grow.
Ray Steiner walked out of a vegetable garden at the Clagett Farm in Upper Marlboro on Tuesday’s hot afternoon, his skin glistening with sweat and his clothing caked in mud.

In exchange for his labor, he went home with a basket of the beans, tomatoes, cucumbers and other produce he had lent a hand in growing.

‘‘This is the right way to do business,” said Steiner, who lives a few miles away from the farm, owned by the environmental nonprofit Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

‘‘I like the whole idea of growing food organically and taking care of the land,” he said.

Steiner participates in the farm’s Community-Supported Agriculture program, a system that allows consumers to directly support a local farm that in turn provides them with its produce.

Supporters either pay the farm a fixed amount at the start of growing season and receive a share of what is harvested each week, or, like Steiner, earn their vegetables week-to-week by volunteering in the field.

Clagett Farm’s community-supported agriculture program began in 1992, but its organizers said they have noticed its popularity pick up in recent years as more consumers have become interested in buying locally grown foods.

The program provides vegetables each week to 270 area families and receives inquiries from hundreds more that it does not have the capacity to accept, program manager Carrie Vaughn said. In 2001, the program could not even find 150 interested participants.

The program satisfies consumers because they know where some of their food is coming from, and it helps small farmers because they get the money they will need for that season’s expenses up front, Vaughn said.

‘‘This could and should be replicated by other farms in the area. There is great demand for it,” she said.

Participants in the Clagett Farm program pay $460 in exchange for 26 weeks of vegetables if they elect to visit the farm each week to pick up their share. Because the program includes many people in Washington, D.C., and the surrounding area, they can pay $500 to pick up in Dupont Circle.

A week’s yield can vary depending on the weather, but it works out roughly to a few pounds of vegetables and the opportunity for participants to pick their own herbs and other produce, such as cherry tomatoes.

The program is also philanthropic. Only 60 percent of the 270 families pay to participate; the rest get vegetables through donations by the Clagett Farm to the Capital Area Food Bank, a partner in the program.

There are about 25 CSAs in Maryland, according to the Maryland Department of Agriculture.

Department Secretary Roger Richardson visited the Clagett Farm on Tuesday during a week-long tour promoting CSAs and other practices that support local farming, including farmer’s markets, county fairs and pick-your-own operations.

Collectively, such practices can help sustain small-scale Maryland farmers while meeting the increasing demand for produce that has not been shipped across the country, Richardson said.

‘‘The interest is there if we can make it all mesh together,” he said.

Mary Kilbourne, an Upper Marlboro resident who has been getting vegetables from the Clagett Farm CSA program since it started, said it is important to support farms in Prince George’s County if residents want to maintain the area’s quality of life and rural character.

When the community takes an active role in supporting its farms, those farmers are less likely to sell their land to developers, she said.

‘‘I’d rather see this than housing developments,” Kilbourne said.

E-mail Andy Zieminski at azieminski@gazette.net.

To start a community-supported agriculture program, contact:

The University of Maryland Cooperative Extension’s Prince George’s County office. Call R. David Myers at 410-222-6759.

The University of Maryland’s Agriculture Marketing Program. For information. Visit www.agmarketing.umd.edu.

The Maryland’s Best program, which is operated by the Maryland Department of Agriculture’s marketing office. Visit www.marylandsbest.net.

Karen Fedor of the MDA’s marketing office, who can connect interested farmers with active CSA programs. Call 410-841-5773.

Source: Maryland Department of Agriculture