Tuesday, September 20, 2005

I saw this article and sent it on over to be shared.

Community Supported Agriculture
September 20, 2005 —
By Lois Caliri, The Roanoke Times

Polly Hieser lives off the land with the help of an unusual business concept -- attracting advance buyers to her unplanted crops. They agree to purchase in bulk and to volunteer in helping with the harvest. It may not be a concept familiar to young Future Farmers of America types, but it works for her.Hieser is no stranger to a landscape that's unfamiliar to most women. She runs a farm. That alone sets her apart among the career ladders more common to her gender; only 11 percent of American farm owners are women. And that number is up 12 percent since 1977.

Once primarily focused on beef cattle, female farmers have diversified in the past 20 years to specialize in horses, aquaculture, fur-bearing animals, and other kinds of livestock. On average, women operate smaller farms than men, and are far more likely to inherit their farms. Farming is, after all, a tough business in which failure is all too common. Virginia lists 47,600 farms, down 4 percent from 1997.

Nationally, the number of farms has remained stagnant at about 2.1 million.Still, Hieser persists as a survivor in a niche that she and increasing numbers of others are carving out around the nation: community supported agriculture.

CSA is a unique model of local agriculture whose roots reach back 30 years to Japan, where a group of women initiated a direct growing and purchasing relationship between their group and local farms. This concept traveled to Europe and was adapted to the U.S. and given the name "Community Supported Agriculture" in Massachusetts in 1985. The number of CSAs, nationally, has increased to more than 1,000, up from about 50 in 1990. Virginia lists 21 CSAs.

"I like the community aspect," Hieser said. "I didn't want to go to the farmers market. I don't have the loud voice like a hawker. I like the idea of growing food and having people come to pick it up."

She relishes the idea that groups of people support the farm and share in the bounty.Hieser draws up a budget reflecting the production costs for the year, and prices her shares accordingly.She charges $690 for a full share, and $410 for a half share. The prices are higher for those who do not want to volunteer during harvest.But she's also known for her generous heart."She enjoys the CSA concept because there's not a lot of sales involved," said Kim Schwenk, an employee. She added that Hieser isn't bossy. "She treats me as an equal. She gives me the run of the barn."

Hieser's unconventional approach to farming is yet another wrinkle in the special tactics that many farmers have resorted to in recent years to thrive, expand and sometimes just to stay afloat during dicey economic times. Individual owners have tried everything from turning part of their homes into bucolic bed-and-breakfasts to pick-your-own retailing.But anyone who seeks to emulate Hieser's strategy should be aware that her annual income of about $12,000 is below poverty line. Yet her true bottom line, the way she sees it, is boosted by bartered goods and the fruit and vegetables she grows for herself. She takes in a couple of extra thousand dollars from the sale of seed and plants.

Hieser chose her business model largely as a way to get close to her market of choice -- about 90 families who demand organically grown products. They are kindred spirits to her and being part of their lifestyle provides Hieser a certain camaraderie with which she's comfortable.....

At first blush, her combination barn and office is reminiscent of "Little House on the Prairie."There's a makeshift clothesline to dry bags, antiquated scales, a chalkboard with all the pertinent information, lots of hand-written notes, sinks and boxes of herbs and vegetables. A black cat with a white chest and paws strolls through at its leisure. But the fax and copy machines, computer and printer in one corner quickly remind you of modern times.Hieser's home, which she built, also reflects her Bohemian lifestyle.

She does not spend any of her earnings on cable or satellite.
She does not watch television.
She does not pay a gas bill.
She does not get an electric bill.
She built her modest home using solar panels.
She heats her home with propane.
She does pay for car insurance and her monthly premiums to her health insurer.
Her grocery bill is next to nothing.

"Farming in this country is in real trouble because of long-distance shipping and the cost of farming unfarmable land."

She's disturbed that many people continually hurt the soil with chemicals and heavy machinery.It was the heavy use of chemicals that drove Hieser and her business partner, Ron Juftes, out of a Philadelphia suburb, where the two had a landscaping and tree surgery business. That was in 1990."We started to get sick from the lawn spray. We couldn't work in neighborhoods where the lawns were sprayed. It was nasty stuff."

To see more of The Roanoke Times, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.roanoke.com. Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
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Here in the Greater Asheville area we at ECO-STEWARD Realty, a community-based service with a heart, we support local growers and work with farmers to preserve and protect the Appalachian Farmlands.

Please let us know if we can be of service to YOU.

janeAnne, Principal Broker

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