F or a growing number of people, it has become important to know where the foods they eat come from -- specifically. Local proteins and produce have gradually risen to prominence in communities around the country. For foodies, eating at restaurants that offer local goods has been a priority for years. But in today's nutrition-conscious environment, eating local has become part of many households. A big reason for that is the emergence of the CSA.
The term "CSA" refers to community supported agriculture. Many farms, including several in this region, developed CSA programs to help make it simple for consumers to get their hands on locally grown, often organic foodstuff. The money paid by consumers to take part in the programs also helps support the farms and make farming a more viable way to make a living.
Generally CSA programs are available to anyone who wants to pay the price and has a need for a certain amount of fresh goods. Depending on the farm's individual program, customers sign up on site or online or at a participating farmers' market and buy a "share" of the coming season's crops. That share entitles the consumer to a box or basket of food on a weekly, biweekly, or monthly basis. The details of a particular CSA vary widely, and although only a short drive separates many of the CSA farms in the area, they all have their own personality and way of doing things.
Madison Creek Farms (www.madisoncreekfarms.com) is a 38-acre spread north of Nashville in Goodlettsville, Tennessee. Having been in the same family for three generations, spanning nearly 50 years, Madison Creek is headed up by owner Peggy Marchetti, who has a passion for the true meaning of a CSA program.
Operating a CSA program since 2004, Madison Creek is one of a handful of on-farm CSAs in Middle Tennessee. That means you come and get what you want. You won't find their produce and fresh-cut flowers in any of the local farmers' markets.
"At our CSA you can go harvest your items yourself if you want to," says Marchetti. "If you want extra green beans or some extra kale in your basket, you just go get it. It gives our members a different kind of connection to the farm. It's a different ballgame. It's the way the system was set up to be, to me. It's all about a connection between the customer, the farmer who grows, and the farm itself. And unlike some places, everything you get comes from this farm and nothing is dropped off from anywhere else."
For $270, CSA members at Madison Creek Farms get to load up on plenty of food to feed the family, including premium pickings from the flower gardens at no additional charge.
"When you leave, you can have up to 20 or more items in your basket at any time during the growing season," Marchetti notes. "In the spring you'll have greens; you'll move into broccoli and cauliflower, green beans, squash, tomatoes, melons -- and of course the flowers are included as well."
On the west side of Nashville, along River Road near Charlotte Pike, is Green Door Gourmet (www.greendoorgourmet.com), located on Hidden Valley Farm. Currently in their second year of offering a CSA program, Green Door is moving toward an inventory of produce grown on their own farm. Formerly a co-op farm, where 80% of the goods came from other local farms, Green Door plans to offer 100% of their items from the quickly expanding farm this season.
"Last year we were more of a distributor for other farms," explains Austin Sauerbrie, who spearheads the CSA at Green Door Gourmet. "We only farmed about six or seven acres last year. This year we have 40 acres and are getting our organic certification. We are now a fully functioning CSA farm. We'll offer more boxes per week and everything will come entirely from our farm."
One unique feature of Green Door's CSA program is that, in addition to offering a traditional CSA -- where shareholders buy up front for the whole season at a cost of $695 on the weekly plan, and $375 for a half-share biweekly plan -- they also offer a flexible CSA that allows people with smaller budgets or less need to purchase one week at a time, with no commitment to the whole growing season. An e-mail goes out to people who sign up for the newsletter each week, and those interested in a flexible CSA purchase can confirm via e-mail and go to the farm to pick up on the weeks they choose. Traditional shareholders have the option of farm pickup or coming to the West End Farmers' Market.
Sauerbrie says this is a good way for newcomers to the world of CSAs to learn whether this type of program is useful to them.
"The e-mails tell folks what is in the box that week, and they can come out to the farm on Saturdays and pick it up if they want," Sauerbrie explains. "I'm not aware of any other CSAs that offer that around here."
CSA programs are not all about the vegetables, fruits, and flowers, though. For those looking for some meatier options, farms like Peaceful Pastures in Lancaster, Tennessee, offer an all-meat CSA that's been kicking since 1999. With items ranging from beef, pork, and lamb to chicken and turkey, shareholders in the Peaceful Pastures CSA will have plenty to go around. Although most people associate CSAs with produce, farmers like Jenny Drake, owner of Peaceful Pastures, decided to give it a try long before many of the local produce farmers in the area did.
"We got into CSAs about 14 years ago," says Drake. "We'd heard about the concept and we had several people ask us about it, so we decided to try it. The first year we had one person."
Not balking at the lack of response, Peaceful Pastures carried on and saw their enterprise grow quickly.
"The second year we had 11 people sign up for the CSA," Drake remembers. "And every year it grew. We now have over 100 people each year and capacity for that many more."
In addition to the novelty of an all-meat CSA, the farm also has another unique quality compared to its plant-based colleagues. You can get products year round.
"We have a summer CSA that runs from May to October," Drake says. "And we also have a winter CSA that goes from November to April. And we have three programs available during those times to make sure people are getting the products they want and can use. The only thing I can think of that would make a person not right for our CSA is if they don't know what to do with a whole chicken. We try to use a variety of products, and we always try to promote the CSA while also educating people as to whether a CSA is right for them."
Peaceful Pastures offers pickup service at the Donelson, Richland Park, and Franklin Farmers' Markets.
Contact information for these and many other local farms participating in community supported agriculture can be found on the Local Table website.