More Tennesseans are getting a taste of fresh, locally grown food from beyond the grocery store. Often, consumers get this food through a local farm’s community supported agriculture program, or CSA. Members sign up to receive a share of the farm’s in-season produce or meats each week. Traditionally, items are delivered or picked up by the member at a drop site. However, more and more farms are moving toward a market-style model, giving their members a chance to pick up shares right on the farm – and a chance to make even more of a connection with the farming community.
Part of the ‘Farmily’
At Allenbrooke Farms in Spring Hill, every CSA share that is sold is picked up at the property. “We’re only 3 miles out of town, but it still saves a lot of time and cost for delivery,” says Daniel Allen, who farms 12 certified organic acres with his wife, Stephanie.
Allenbrooke Farms’ CSA grew from 99 members in 2012 to 375 members in 2016.
“We both quit our jobs in 2011 and sold our car to buy seeds,” Stephanie says. “We call it our CSA ‘Farmily.’ Many of our Farmily members from the first year are still with us, and we’ve seen their families grow as they’ve seen our farm and family grow.”
After Byron Hill’s early retirement from the hospitality industry, he and his wife, Lynn, started Hill Family Farm in White House in 2014. The couple’s son, Chris, also works at the farm. The farm has a CSA program. According to Byron, on-farm pickups help build the local CSA community. “When you bring people out to the farm, they become a part of it,” Byron says. “They see what we’re doing and how we raise our animals. We get to spend a little time with them, and their kids get to see the farm.”
The farm’s CSA grew from 14 members in its first year to 85 in 2016, with a goal to grow to 125 members in 2017, with on-farm pickups only. Hill Family Farm sells produce, pork, chicken and eggs. “Our produce CSA members are likely to buy some eggs or they might buy some chicken or pork when they’re here to pick up their shares,” Byron says. “That has helped grow our farm sales.”
Picking and Choosing
Farms offering on-farm CSA pickups are also giving members more choices of what to take home. Allenbrooke Farms provides its members total choice from the food it grows.
“They grab an empty basket, and as they go through the line, they get to fill it up with whatever they want. It’s a buffet,” Stephanie says. Byron says having the ability to pick what items they want is becoming more important to consumers in a CSA program. “We are moving toward only limiting choice when it comes to a few products we have less of, like strawberries,” says Byron, who grows 3 to 4 acres of both fruits and vegetables.
Some CSA members still enjoy the challenge of a CSA share that encourages seasonal eating, Byron adds. “Even while providing choice, we’re sure to talk up some of the crops they may be less familiar with and offer recipes and cooking tips, encouraging them to try different produce,” he says. Allenbrooke Farms encourages its members to take on new food adventures. Stephanie offered cooking and other demonstrations on the farm, but she had to move them to a larger location to accommodate more people because of increased interest. One of the biggest benefits of on-farm pickups is that it frees farmers to do what they do best: grow food. You can find a CSA near you at picktnproducts.org and on the Pick TN Products mobile app.