March 1, 2010

Hooking up with farms

Consumers at a fair in Portland and elsewhere around the state browse and buy into farmers' future harvests.

By Ann S. Kim akim@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND - Think of it as speed dating for vegetables.

click image to enlarge

Chris Cavendish of Fishbowl Farm in Bowdoinham, left, and Randy Woods of Portland discuss Woods’ share with the farm at the Woodfords Congregational Church on Sunday.

Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer

That's one description Adrienne Lee of New Beat Farm in Jefferson heard for the community-supported agriculture fairs held around Maine on Sunday.

"There are a lot of different options," said Lee, who helped organize the Portland fair. "People get to shop around."

About a dozen farms had booths at the fair held at the Woodfords Congregational Church. Farmers showed off winter produce and other agricultural products, including meat, apple cider and maple syrup.

Consumers browsed the booths, talked to the farmers and -- if they were feeling the right chemistry -- signed up for community-supported agriculture shares. Shareholders essentially pay in advance for a share of a farm's harvest, supplying the operation with cash at a time when money generally isn't coming in.

It didn't take long for Will Carroll and Lizzie Torkelson of Portland to make a match with Fishbowl Farm in Bowdoinham.

They asked farmer Chris Cavendish why his CSA program was structured to allow shareholders to put money into an account and spend it as they like at Fishbowl's stand at farmers markets in Portland and Brunswick.

"Because if I weren't a farmer, that's what I would want," Cavendish told them.

The couple were looking for flexibility, a variety of produce and a convenient pick-up location.

"We came for the CSA -- big time," Carroll said.

"And we're leaving with a CSA," Torkelson added.

The potential for such connections was taking place at a dozen locations around Maine. The fairs were organized by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, the Maine Council of Churches and local organizations.

Ramona Snell of Snell Family Farm in Buxton said CSA programs are helpful for start-up costs. Farmers have already been spending money on seed, labor, compost and other supplies, but won't be making much money off their products for months.

Snell's farm is among those offering a discount to encourage CSA membership. In this case, it's 10 percent.

"That's better than any CD is doing," she said, referring to certificates of deposit.

The programs can also foster a relationship between shareholders and the farms they've invested in.

Meadowood Farm in Yarmouth lost all its tomatoes to wet weather last year. The farm apologized to shareholders in letters, manager Sarah Bostick said, and got unexpected responses.

"We got sympathy cards in the mail back," she said. "People were tied into the farm."

The CSA fair fits in with Woodfords' effort to encourage sustainable agriculture and stewardship of the environment, said the Rev. Carolyn Lambert, the church's pastor.

"We are all really called to care about all God's creation," she said.

 

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at: akim@pressherald.com

 

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