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VOL. 40 | NO. 23 | Friday, June 3, 2016

Community supported agriculture provides direct link from farmers to table

By Joe Morris

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Stephanie Bradshaw strolls through the greenhouse at Golden Rule Farm, one of two farms supplying Farmhouse Nashville CSA.

-- Submitted Photograph By Jeremy Polzel

In 2009, all Stephanie Bradshaw wanted to do was get her family back to cleaner eating. Running a business around the pickup and delivery of farm-fresh produce wasn’t in the picture. But it soon would be.

“My best friend was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer, and at the time we both had two small children,” Bradshaw says. “I had always considered myself to be very healthy, but after she was diagnosed she began to look into alternate as well as traditional therapies.

“That got me into looking at my family’s diet, and soon after I took us off dairy and moved us to raw diary. That meant finding raw milk, which was very expensive at the farmer’s market.”

She began exploring natural foods co-ops in and around Nashville, and over the course of travels to different growers and markets to find fully organic foods, she began to make some connections.

She found Thomas and Dinah Brubaker, who operate Golden Rule Farm, and Rolling Acres Farm, owned by Nelson and Lydiann Gingerich, both near Scottsville, Kentucky.

“I had been getting eggs from them, and then produce, and I got to know them and fell in love with them,” she says of the Brubakers.

Nelson Gingerich and his son till at Rolling Acres Farm, one of two farms supplying Farmhouse Nashville CSA.

-- Submitted Photograph By Jeremy Polzel

“They are a throwback in some ways, but so far ahead in others, like adding things like boron back into the soil to help with arthritis. And they all have a heart for families, and they want to make great, natural food affordable.

“Ethical, honest and transparent – what wasn’t to love? And so I decided to help them.”

Farmhouse Nashville (www.farmhousenashville.com) was born and has been doing a booming business ever since. It has joined more than a dozen CSA (community supported agriculture) operations of various shapes, sizes and offerings in Middle Tennessee.

As farmer’s markets have grown in popularity, so too have CSAs, which means farmers have more options than trucking their produce to a few parks on set days. It also means more work, both for the growers and those who connect the farm to the buyers.

It also shows a rise in willingness to eat more locally grown food routinely.

“I’m very passionate about where I get my food from, and I know that other people are as well based on our growth,” Bradshaw adds. “When you’re in a CSA, you’re committed. You have to eat the food that’s in that box all week. We are going back to the way our grandparents, and great-grandparents, were eating.”

Last year, Farmhouse Nashville had just over 400 subscribing individuals and families. It’s been growing by about 100 per year, with Wilson and Smith counties forming a base for clientele.

But in the last couple of years, East Nashville, 12 South and even Spring Hill have become hotspots for it and other CSAs, including Spring Hill’s own Allenbrooke Farms (http://allenbrookefarms.com).

Stephanie and Daniel Allen run Allenbrooke Farm CSA.

-- Submitted Photograph By Susan Pittard

“We’re certified organic, and we feed more than 350 families a week during our CSA season,” says Stephanie Allen, who along with husband, Daniel, own and operate the farm.

“But unlike a lot of other CSAs who deliver, we have everyone come out to the farm. We used to go anywhere people might be buying produce, and we learned that we were better off just staying on the farm.”

The Allens “went all in” on farming five years ago, selling their car for seeds and opting for a CSA business model from the very beginning.

They had 99 families the first year, and now routinely sell out early and have a substantial waiting list. Their harvest season, like most farmers in the area, runs from May through October, and they sell out well in advance of it.

“Another way we are different is that we don’t have the boxes pre-made when people get here,” Allen explains. “We have a true market-style CSA where you pick up a basket and fill it whatever you want.

“If you want all tomatoes, you get that. You hate eggplant? Don’t take one. But we do set limits on every item, so we can try our best not to run out of anything before everyone’s had a chance to come through.”

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An added bonus is that the Allens’ CSA draws more urban yard farmers, because while someone may have room for their own squash and cucumbers, they can’t grow much else. This way, they eat what they produce in their yard, and use the Allens as a backfill for the many other vegetables they want but don’t have room to grow.

“People are happiest when they can decide what they want, rather than opening a box and saying, ‘Oh look, more squash. And with us, they are able to decide what they want to grow on their own, if that’s their goal.”

Many CSAs are produce only, while others range out into jams and jellies, eggs, meats and more. KLD Farm (www.kldfarmtennbeef.com) in Ashland City offers beef, pork and lamb and sells at various markets and retail outlets in Nashville.

The CSA concept means more work, says owner Kenneth Drinnon, who began offering one two years ago.

“I have tweaked the concept to give the customers the option to exchange any item they get for any other item I sell, dollar for dollar,” Drinnon points out.

“There’s a lot of record keeping and communication that I didn’t have before, but I do have increased sales and customer loyalty. I hadn’t really thought about a CSA, but they are really popular and people kept asking when I was going to start one, so I did.”

These days, the traction CSAs are gaining belie how late the state was to get on board, notes Lisa Shively, editor and publisher of Local Table magazine.

“Tennessee definitely was behind the curve when it came to the CSA movement,” Shively says. “Both coasts and our neighboring states Kentucky and North Carolina were way ahead of us in terms of supporting local food.’’

That said, she adds that, “I see it continuing to grow. The goal is to make our area totally self-sustainable when it comes to our food system.

“Not only consumers, but schools, hospitals and other institutions need to rely on local foods. We have a long way to go.”

And that means more farmers, something Allendale’s Stephanie Allen says there’s plenty of room for.

“We feed our area, but we’ve got 350 families out of 30,000 people in Spring Hill,” she says. “We’re not even scratching the surface. We need more farms, but we need to make sure that we create a model where people can buy from that farmer so you are certain where your food is coming from.”

The Allens are only farming 11 acres of their 120-acre spread, so they’ve got plenty of expansion room. Next up is a new pavilion for pickups, they say.

As for Farmhouse, Bradshaw says she sees plenty of potential for growth, but the whole process of starting the business has been its own reward.

“I’ve gotten to know and interact with these amazing farmers, and I wish I could be at every single drop-off point to tell people about what’s in their boxes,” she says. “I want to say, ‘I was there when that was picked,’ or even when it was planted.

“All I’m doing is getting this beautiful produce from the grower to the people who want it, and that’s an awesome thing.”

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