Images and words by Andrea Hubbell + Sarah Cramer Shields.
We are extraordinarily lucky to live in a place where the food we consume is so easily connected to the land on which it was grown. The CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) model is not one unique to our area, but our community is filled with a variety of impressive CSA options. The CSAs we are featuring in this post are about more than a set box of produce picked up each week in a local parking lot, filled with too many of this or not enough of that. Instead we have Bellair Farm, which offers a market-based CSA in which members choose whatever produce they’d like to fill their bag each week. And Best of What’s Around, whose grass-fed beef share changes every two months and is accompanied by a surprise treat from another local producer. The Rock Barn offers their Porkshare, a variety of fresh cuts, sausages, and smoked meats from across the whole animal. Raw milk can be had in plenty by participating in the herd share at Silky Cow, where members have the option of picking up their weekly gallons either on the farm or having it delivered directly to Charlottesville.
With Spring approaching (please!), our hopeful thoughts have turned to the abundant fresh produce we’ll soon be consuming daily. Beyond the extra greens we’ll be adding to our diet, we’re excited by the availability of local, sustainable meat and animal products that we’ll be placing on our plates. We’ve recently learned of some of these options and wanted to share them with you. We hope you enjoy this tour of a few local CSAs, and that we will see you at a pick-up this Spring!
The drive to Bellair Farm is one of our favorites; rolling hills of farmland that takes you just past Blenheim Vineyards (where you should stop for a tasting, if you’ve got the time). Just 20 minutes outside of downtown Charlottesville, it is faster (and more pleasant) to make this trip than to embark on the dreaded journey up 29N to Target, and the rewards are far greater. When you approach the large green barn where the twice-weekly market pick-up is held, you’ll likely be greeted by a smiling Jamie Barrett (CSA manager) and his little white dog, Papi, or a gaggle of squealing children gathered around the bunny cage. Those bunnies are the only animals on the farm (other than Papi) who are purely pets; there for the enjoyment of the kids accompanying their parents to the farm.
Inside the barn you’ll find tables set up like a farmer’s market, loaded with produce picked fresh in the previous day. Grab your brown paper bag and make your rounds, choosing whichever produce you want to fill your bag, with the very occasional limit on a specialty item such as garlic. Farm pick-ups occur on Wednesdays from 10-3 and Saturdays from 9-2, but if the drive isn’t possible for you that week, you may also pick up at the farmers’ markets at Pen and Meade Parks, on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 3-7, respectively.
Aside from the views and the charming company of Jamie, Papi, and the bunnies, driving out to Bellair Farm has additional benefits. Part of the reason that Cynthia Davis (Cynnie), owner of the farm, wanted to create a productive business on the property was so that she could share its beauty with others. While growing the healthiest, highest quality produce is their business, Cynnie and Jamie see the families and individuals who come out and connect with the farm as the reason they choose to engage in that business. They welcome guests to the farm Monday-Saturday from 8-5 to walk the farm trails and pick additional produce, a perk on top of the weekly brown bag of goodness included in each share.
Jamie takes us for a drive in the farm truck with Papi as co-pilot. We see last year’s productive fields and land prepped for this year’s plantings. We have a little adventure in the mud and learn that tractors are very good at dislodging stuck vehicles. But most exciting of all we make a new friend in Jamie, sign up for our shares, and look forward to being part of his farm family.
Half shares at Bellair Farm are available for $350, full shares (plenty for a family of four) for $600. The season is 22 weeks, starting in mid-May and running through November. Sign up by visiting the Bellair Farm website. Jamie expects that they will be full by April, so act quickly!