"Carrot Party." Photo by Steve Shogren.
Food security means different things to different people, but the common definition is "having convenient and consistent access to safe, fresh, affordable, and nutritious foods." Things that interrupt our food security include war, transportation stoppages, shortages of farmers and farm workers, and weather conditions such as drought, hail, unseasonable cold, and so on.
The current drought in California's Central Valley is expected to shock our food security, causing shortages of some foods, and significantly higher prices for all categories of food. Some agricultural economists are even predicting that prices for vegetables like tomatoes and lettuce may double, and they could even triple for fruit and nut products. Central Valley farmers simply lack the water necessary to plant all their fields and are planning major production cutbacks.
Local food production and distribution is the first line of defense against food insecurity. Family gardens were once typical and starting to gain popularity again. Community gardens and farmers markets have also gained in popularity and acceptance. Ten years ago, for example, there were about 2,000 farmers markets in the United States; today, there are more than 7,000 with many more in the planning stages. Here in Carroll County we're fortunate to have an active farmers market in each of our main cities.
Another food security strategy, Community Supported Agriculture, is gaining widespread popularity. Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, is basically a food subscription service between a customer and a local farmer: the consumer pays the farmer an annual "subscription" fee and gets an allotment of food each week during the growing season. The make-up of allotments depends on what the farmer produces; almost all CSA allotments include vegetables, while others may include eggs, poultry, cut flowers, honey, and more.
Among the approximately 5,000 CSAs operating throughout the United States, 3 of them are right here in Carroll County: Wildfire Farm operated by Dane Schumacher and Marcie Brewster near Metalton, Sycamore Bend Farm operated by Andrew and Madeline Schwerin on Keels Creek off Rockhouse Road, and Homestead Farm operated by the Jon and Kaylynn Toombs family just south of Berryville.
Wildfire Farm is the most "senior" of our local CSAs. Schumacher and Brewster have operated the farm since the mid 1990s, and were instrumental in starting the Berryville Farmers' Market. In 1998, they started the first CSA in the area and, because of its success, focus almost entirely on their CSA subscribers.
"We closely follow a true CSA model," Schumacher said recently. "We grow exclusively for our members and almost 100% of our produce is distributed to them. We home deliver to members in Eureka Springs and Berryville, and to a pick up site in Harrison." This year, the Wildfire Farm CSA has subscription memberships available for 40 families.
More information about the Wildfire Farm CSA, including pricing, is available at the Local Harvest website, or by emailing the farm email@example.com. Wildfire farm's telephone number is 870-545-3120.
After interning at Foundation Farm, Andrew and Madeline Schwerin acquired land nestled along the banks of Keels Creek, named it Sycamore Bend Farm, had a baby, and built high tunnels and other infrastructure necessary for year round production. In addition to operating a CSA this year, the Schwerin's have been busy and successful vendors at the Eureka Springs Farmers' Market, and started the Saturday market on White Street in Eureka Springs.
Like other CSA farmers, the Schwerin's refer to CSA subscriptions as "shares" because customers are buying into the performance--production--of the farm. During bountiful years, customers receive high dividends in the form of produce. During down years, production can be less bountiful; consequently, customers may receive less production in their weekly allotment. Due to irrigation, diligent pest control, and hard work, production has always met the expectations of subscribing customers.
"Shares are now available for our 2014 Produce Share," says Andrew. "You will get a bag every Tuesday with enough fresh organic produce for a small family. Spring Season starts April 15th with lettuce, kale, asparagus, strawberries, snap peas, spinach, and much more as the season progresses. Summer and Fall Season follow. You can subscribe to one or more seasons, with a discount for signing up for the whole year. The cost is $200 a season for 11 weekly pickups." Contact information for the Sycamore Bend CSA is Andrew Schwerin at AndrewSchwerin@gmail.com or 479-981-3128.
With the exception of some time out for education and starting a family, Jon and Kaylynn Toombs have been life-long residents of Carroll County. Several years ago they acquired land near Trigger Gap south of Berryville, named it Homestead Farm, and began living out their ideal for a more sustainable agricultural community--and style of life. Jon uses his engineering background to design and build production infrastructure like greenhouses and high tunnels that are modern, efficient, and highly productive, while Kaylynn meets with customers at area Farmers' Markets. Market customers are always dazzled by the near perfection of Homestead Farms' production and frequently remark on Kaylynn's beautiful market displays.
In addition to operating a CSA, Jon and Kaylynn have been the cornerstone of the Berryville Farmer's Market over the past several seasons, and have been instrumental in organizing the market's move from the Town Square to a new location at the Berryville Community Center. The move was precipitated due to parking, and traffic noise that interfered with the musicians that frequently play at the market.
"Berryville's Mayor and Parks Director were extremely amiable and helpful in planning the move," Toombs said. "[The new market] will be located on the grassy area next to the pavilion and have full use of the pavilion. Homestead Farms is taking a more active role in the Berryville market in hopes of bringing it up closer to Eureka's scale."
Persons interested in signing up for the Homestead Farm CSA can e-mail Jon Toombs at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 870-480-3041. All Carroll County based CSA products are free of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers, grown locally, and ready to be on customer tables within hours of being picked.