Control and independence motivate Community Sponsored Agriculture farms

From the Quail Hollow Farm | Photo courtesy of the Quail Hollow Farm

Farmers have never lacked the ability to produce; their historic challenge has been to find buyers for their produce, markets that are able to accept all they can grow—and get paid for it. This challenge, growing concern over corporate agriculture and the loss of small farms nationwide, coupled with the need to have more control over the food we eat, gave rise to Community Supported Agriculture arriving on the scene.

CSA is a relatively recent development that, surprisingly, allows a farmer on very small acreage to sell all he can grow and actually make a living at it.

There are over 12,000 CSA farms in the United States. In Utah there is the Cricket Song Farm in Beryl, operated by Jill Simkins since 1993; the Nature Hills Farm located in Cedar City; Red Acre Farm  in the St. George area; and various other CSA farms scattered all over the state. Quail Hollow Farm in Overton, Nev., sells at the Downtown Farmers Market in St George, as does Cricket Song Farm. If you have never heard of this concept, or these farms, you’re not alone.

These small, local farms fly well under the radar, do very little advertising and basically sell only to locals. These are not large, corporate farms that advertise nationwide, some don’t advertise at all; word of mouth is all they use to get the word out about their home grown, usually organic, produce.

Here’s how it works according to “(A) farmer offers a certain number of ‘shares’ to the public. Typically the share consists of a weekly box of vegetables, but other farm products may be included. Interested consumers purchase a share – aka a  ‘membership ‘ or a  ‘subscription’ –  and in return receive a box (bag, basket) of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season.

“It’s a simple enough idea,” according to Red Acre Farms’s website. “Each farmer designs their CSA a bit differently. The farmer sells shares of the anticipated harvest. Local community members become members and shareholders of the CSA by making a financial commitment to the farm.

Each member pays a fee at the beginning of a growing season to meet some of the farm’s operating expenses for the upcoming season. Farmers provide members with baskets of delicious, fresh, locally grown vegetables, herbs and fruit. Some CSAs also offer flowers, honey, eggs, meat, and dairy.”

CSAs have some similarities to the popular “bountiful basket” concept, but with significant differences. Bountiful Basket boxes are the same produce as you get in a store, but preloaded with a predetermined selection of produce you may or may not be interested in, and the produce is not locally grown. Bountiful Baskets is a co-op, so differs conceptually from CSAs.

CSAs allow you to “buy” into the farm, and even work on the farm if you choose. Quail Hollow Farm in Overton, Nevada, produces over 70 different crops, plus pork, poultry, goats and rabbit. Quail Hollow has in excess of 100 “memberships,” plus they sell to high end restaurants in the Las Vegas area, and at farmers markets in Las Vegas and St George.

“We make two farmers markets a week when they’re open,” said Monte Bledsoe who, with his wife Laura, operates Quail Hollow Farm.

Cymbria Patterson operates the Red Acre Farm in Cedar City and delivers food baskets to the St George area 11 months out of the year. In St. George, deliveries are made at the Back Yard Garden and Gifts and the Downtown Farmers Market at Ancestor Square.

Red Acre Farm “extends its growing season by using ‘hoop houses,’ plastic covered green houses that are not heated. And we are able to grow cool weather crops most of the year,” Patterson said. They purchase some fruit and produce from local gardeners in Washington County.

Because it’s unlikely a single family or individual will take on the task of producing so many crops, plus animals, honey and other consumables, the CSA makes sense as a “community” production venture.

Bledsoe was a building contractor until the economy collapsed in 2008, but his wife, Laura, had already begun producing and selling from their garden. Monte then gave up contracting and became a full-time farmer. The Bledsoes now make a living off their 7 acre farm.

“We advertise very little, word gets out by word of mouth and social media,” Bledsoe said; “we do produce and distribute a lot of brochures, but we really don’t advertise anymore.”

Sometimes the lines of distinction between CSAs, Bountiful Baskets and Farmers Markets may blur, because all employ some elements common to the others. Farmers markets are not necessarily a CSA, and a CSA is not a “bountiful basket” operation, but some aspects are common to all. The distinguishing aspects of CSA are, 1) community financial support of the farm, 2) locally grown produce, on small, farms, and it’s done organically without pesticides.

Quail Hollow Farm’s rows of onions, Norton, Nev. date unknown | Photo courtesy of Quail Hollow Farms

Organically grown produce has never been about price. You will pay more for organically grown foods in part because you lose the advantage of scale in production, and in part because those who value organically grown foods are willing to pay more to get them.

CSAs run counter to the socio-political drift towards more regulation, more government control, and less locally grown food. The Bledsoes have had some serious conflicts with the Clark County Health Department. In October 2011, the Quail Hollow Farm they own hosted a dinner for their members and others in the community if they wanted to pay the price of admission. The outdoor dinner, on their own farm, was raided by the health department; just as they were sitting down to eat. The female inspector demanded all the meat be destroyed and doused with Clorox so it could not be consumed by man or beast.

“This was clearly not a health issue,” said Bledsoe, “it was all about power.” This disturbing episode got national and international attention; it even made Glen Beck’s show.

“This got us so much publicity, we no longer needed to advertise,” Bledsoe said. “The health department in Las Vegas was inundated with many, many calls protesting its actions against us.”

Quail Hollow Farm is going to hold another such dinner in April; “and we’re doing the dinner exactly like the last one,” Bledsoe said.

Bledsoe is working with others to get a bill passed in the Nevada legislature that will allow the processing and sale of certain foods, produce and meats, and other aspects of small, home production, without having to have a “certified and inspected” kitchen.

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Copyright 2012 St. George News.

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