Community shared ag program opens to public
Horticulture agent says perfect timing to sign up for local, fresh food subscriptions to be picked up safely
After completing its introductory pilot year successfully, the Wilderness Trail Farm Share program will open back up in May and is now offered to the whole community. The farm share works with local growers to offer a CSA, or community shared agriculture program, which provides weekly boxes of homegrown or raised items individuals can purchase through a subscription.
Alexis Sheffield, horticulture agent for the Boyle County Cooperative Extension office, says the spring share begins in May and goes for four weeks; the summer share goes for 12 weeks, from June through August.
Sheffield explains the aim of the multi-farm coalition is to provide the community with local, fresh and sustainably grown meats and produce. And because the share boxes are handed out by a local farmer every Monday, at The Warehouse on Centre College’s campus, it’s a perfect way to purchase fresh food in a safe, social-distanced environment.
“I put together a store online, so people can go to that site to figure out exactly how they want to participate,” Sheffield says. People can opt to purchase full or half shares. Prices range due to customization, from $24 to $336.
“If you’re a single person or up to two people, you can do a half share. If it’s a family, you’d want to do the full share.”
There are options for beef and egg shares, and there’s even a newly-added bouquet offering, with fresh-cut flowers weekly. Sheffield says the only thing missing is someone who makes breads, which she’d be interested in finding locally.
“The whole goal is you pick up your week’s worth of groceries in one stop, and it’s all from local farmers. Especially right now, with social distancing, but everyone still wants to support local farmers and are wondering — how do they do it. With how we have it set up, people picking up their food boxes will be at the location all of about a minute and a half.”
Purchases are made through the website and paid in advance, so no exchange of money is necessary on site.
This is technically the second year the extension office has offered the program. It began as a pilot program last year, offered to Centre College. Then, the program was opened up to other local school employees, “but (the pandemic) hit, and schools closed. We can open it back up as long as we practice” the distance restrictions required.
Now, the program is opening back up to anyone who wants fresh food, Sheffield says.
The program was developed in response to farmers who said they needed help marketing their products. “They needed other outlets to sell in, and questioned do we need some sort of food hub in Boyle County, since it’s such a regional stop for so many surrounding counties.”
But, Sheffield says, “What you call a ‘food hub’ and what I call ‘a ‘food hub’ could be very different things. So we came up with this idea of the CSA program.”
“We got some help from the Kentucky Farm Share Coalition, they are sort of similar, except you pick from one farm and only buy from them … Our program involves different farmers contributing to each share.”
She says in Boyle, there aren’t very many farmers who each grow various different crops. Instead, they mostly specialize in a handful.
“So, we involved multiple farms, asked them what are you already growing, get involved with us and we’ll help you sell it.” As far as Sheffield knows, it’s one of the first of its exact kind in the state. She’s been giving presentations to other agencies about how they’ve made the program work.
Anyone who participates is sent an email when the shares are ready, as well as filled in on exactly where their food came from — they know exactly who grew what. The program involves Boyle County farmers and others in bordering counties, like just over the line in Mercer, where Sheffield says they had to venture out in order to offer a blackberry grower.
All of the farmers involved in the project report to the extension office with their product to deliver. “We plan way ahead of time for what we need, they bring their 50-pounds of tomatoes, for example, to fill boxes with. Our master gardeners pack the boxes, after diving everything out according to orders, then we drive them to Centre.”
Each Monday during the share program, farmers are on hand to give them out to subscription holders. “We’re limited in people for resources, and we wanted people to feel connected to their farmers, like they are at the farmers market. So one farmer every week is responsible for doing the pick up that week, so people are getting to know them,” Sheffield says.
As of now, they only have two farmers who are growing spring crops at the moment. “But, if people are interested in wanting something earlier (than when the spring share starts in May), they can contact me and I can contact the farmers and see if they want to bring it in.”
But generally, she says farmers plan in January for a set number of people, so they can plan the growing season around those shares.
And paying up front is good for the farmers, she says. “It’s helpful for them to already have the payment, when the bills come in for them, their product is already sold.”
The best way to order is by going to the Facebook page, at Wilderness Trail Farm Share, and clicking the square site page link in the “about” section. After the share begins, pickups are 3-5 p.m. each Monday at The Warehouse.
Anyone with any questions about the program is welcome to contact Sheffield at the extension office, or by emailing email@example.com.
“The purpose of my job is to help my farmers, so I’ll handle all the questions so they can focus on farming and putting out the best quality products.”
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