Belfast event highlights community-supported agriculture

Posted Feb. 27, 2012, at 6:22 p.m.

BELFAST, Maine — At Village Farm in Freedom, Prentice Grassi and his family grow and sell all kinds of goods — organic vegetables, flowers, chickens and eggs among them.

Barbara Russell of Belfast runs a lodging business, which means in the summertime, she’s working seven days a week and can’t keep up with her own garden.

On Sunday afternoon, Grassi and Russell met at the Belfast Community Supported Agriculture Fair at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Belfast. They chatted for a while at a booth stocked with fresh eggs and carrot sticks that also was manned by Grassi’s 8-year-old son, Joseph.

“They’re putting a lot of love into the product,” Russell said later of the farmers who came to the busy event. “This is not just about making money. This is family.”

She said she came to the fair, one of 15 such events held over the weekend around the state, in order to gather information about joining a community supported agriculture program. The event was part of the “Meet Your Farmers and Fishermen” weekend, sponsored statewide by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.

“I’m just going to read it all, and see which one is going to work for me,” Russell said. “There’s a lot of different plans and options and different ways of doing this. It’s good. I think it’s a lot more flexible than it used to be. Now, you can pick and choose what you want.”

That is exactly the kind of response organizers were hoping to get, according to Kate Harris, education coordinator at the Belfast Co-op, who organized the local event. Nine local farms, a bakery and Cheryl Wixson’s Kitchen all offered some kind of community supported agriculture plan for potential customers. About 100 people prowled through the fair, nibbling on treats, looking at information and getting to know their farmers.

“It’s an educational event, and partly a celebration,” Harris said. “We have all these amazing farmers. It’s expanding every year. There’s no limit.”

Community supported agriculture works when customers buy-in at the beginning of the growing season, becoming members of a farm or business.

“You’re financially supporting the enterprise,” she said. “The really die-hard meaning is that if the farm has a hailstorm, you take some of that risk along with the farmers.”

But most of the time, the reality is that community supported agriculture participants pay money in the spring and then get some sort of weekly produce pickup or delivery throughout the summer. Customers can purchase shares of vegetables, meat and even, at places such as Village Farm, eggs, cheese and flowers.

Grassi said community supported agriculture shares are a growing part of the farm’s business model, and that his family is hoping to expand their winter share customers, too.

“We can get some money upfront, when we’re incurring most of our expenses,” he said. “Week to week, we can pick and choose from what’s ready in the field. And just the connection for us is good. We like to connect with the people, too.”

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