Tasting The Harvest- All Year Long

Hubbard SquashMost Ashevillians have at least heard of a CSA or Community Supported Agriculture, where you purchase a share of season’s crop from a farm and the bounty is delivered (or available for pick up) throughout the harvest season. We know the time of year, the air even smells different. Things are awake and alive, growing in abundance. We are blessed with the bounty and the taste shines through. Why should that have to stop come Dec and into the remaining winter months? Thankfully, it doesn’t have to. Enter Winter Sun Farms, a winter CSA program operated by Blue Ridge Food Ventures. An insight into the how the program works with Chris Reedy, Executive Director.

CSL: How did the idea of Winter Sun Farms come about and how long has it been operating?

CR: For many people who want to eat locally and support local farms and producers, the winter can pose a problem. Choices for eating locally can be limited to basic options such as eggs, meat and greens. Blue Ridge Food Ventures wanted to address the needs of locavores in Western North Carolina while also providing another revenue stream for our local farms. So, six years ago we started the Winter Sun Farms CSA program, based on a model that began in the Hudson Valley area of New York about a decade ago. Through Winter Sun Farms, we provide members with many more local options by purchasing produce from local farmers during the growing season, then prepping, packing, freezing, and distributing those local fruits and veggies during winter. Through Winter Sun Farms we’ve worked closely with more than 30 farms ranging from broccoli growers in Watauga County to beekeepers in Cherokee County. Our goal is to provide the best of what the Western North Carolina region has to offer.

CSL: Does this work like a traditional CSA, regarding pick up, delivery, etc.?

CR: Distributions for the CSA are much like a traditional summer CSA, except we distribute monthly during the winter months instead of on a weekly basis like most summer CSAs. Subscribers receive eight items at each pickup in December, January, February and March. Items can include frozen blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, applesauce, green beans, asparagus puree, broccoli puree, cubed butternut squash, diced tomatoes, basil pesto and diced peppers. We also offer fresh items such as eggs, salad greens, kale, turnips, sweet potatoes and grits.

We have five distribution locations: Downtown Asheville, Black Mountain, Flat Rock, and here at Blue Ridge Food Ventures on the Enka campus of A-B Tech – plus, we’re starting our second season in Greenville SC, at the Swamp Rabbit Café & Grocery.

CSL: I am sure that will make Greenville residents happy! So, do you ever pickle, preserve or can the harvest for sale?

CR: We’ve made a blueberry puree from excess inventory, but for the most part we keep the items basic so that subscribers can use them as they see fit.

CSL: For instance, canning on their own if they wish- I can see how that would be appealing. How would you rate or gauge the popularity of a winter CSA. Does there seem to be a demand?

CR: Locally, the demand seems to be high for continuing to eat locally during the winter months. We started with 100 members; this season we expect to serve more than 350 subscribers. The berries are always a big hit. It’s very unusual to be able to source local berries during the winter months – as far as we know there are no other programs or products in the region or state that provide consumers with high quality, local frozen fruits and vegetables in the winter months.

CSL: And for what reasons do you think?

CR: The program really expands options for folks who want to eat local year round. Also, subscribers can feel good about the fact that the program supports local farms. We purchase more than six tons of local produce yearly. We list the name of the farm on the packages so that subscribers can then purchase directly from the farmers during the growing season, providing yearlong support to the farmer. It’s also a way to come to “know your farmer” and the quality of the crops they produce.

CSL: For a newbie to CSAs and the concept, why would Winter Sun Farms be a good testing ground for someone?

CR: Winter Sun Farms is a great place to experience your first CSA. Subscribers to more traditional summer CSAs sometimes complain that they never know what they’ll be receiving, or that they get too much of one item. Ten pounds of zucchini can stretch even the finest chef’s recipe creativity.

Also, subscribers don’t always have time to deal with processing vegetables like butternut squash so they can be used in recipes. At Winter Sun Farms we prep, package and freeze items in convenient, easy-to-use containers; many meals can be as easy as cutting open the packages and adding a few ingredients to make a wholesome meal for your family in 30 minutes or less. They’re recipe ready – perfect for families on the go and busy folks looking to eat simple, healthy local meals.

The share comes with more than 50 recipes developed with Winter Sun Farms items in mind. Before each distribution, subscribers know what will be in each share so that they can plan their month’s meals around what they’ll be receiving. A small tailgate-type of market has sprouted up at the Blue Ridge Food Ventures distribution location so that subscribers can even get some of their monthly shopping completed while they’re picking up their share.

More on Winter Sun Farms:

Share costs are based on pickup location and cover the whole season (four pickups – December through March; eight items per pickup):
Blue Ridge Food Ventures, A-B Tech Enka Campus, West Asheville – $130
Black Mountain, Grove Arcade in downtown Asheville, and East Flat Rock – $140 each location
Greenville, SC, Swamp Rabbit Café and Grocery – $145

For more information or to purchase a share, go to wintersunfarmsnc.com.
For more information on Blue Ridge Food Ventures, go to blueridgefoodventures.org.

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