Our Local Commons
FEBRUARY 20, 2013

Community Supported Agriculture

Banner for Community Supported Agriculture
Banner for Community Supported Agriculture

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!

Bellair Farm

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!

Best of What’s Around

Our introduction to BOWA (Best of What’s Around) beef began at the Charlottesville City Market with the smiling face of Tracey Love. Impressed by what we’d taken home and tasted so far, we were excited to visit the farm to see where the grass fed goodness started and to learn more about their new CSA (Cow Supported Agriculture) program. Our visit on a cold and dreary morning is quickly warmed as we’re welcomed with smiles and hugs from old and new friends. The team of Tracey, Chris, Greg, Pam, and Kathleen are happy to share their farm with us.

We start our visit with a quick trip to see the goats and ducks, who are there for the enjoyment of the visiting share holders and kids, and also to provide a few duck eggs. Chris is the farm manager, and we all pile into his truck for a tour of the 1,261 acres that consists of five farms: Spring Hill, Seven Pines, Oak Wood, Maple Hill (where the Local Food Hub lives) and Church Hill.  This crew sharing our truck space helps to run this farming operation situated four miles north of Scottsville, Virginia, that was purchased by Dave Matthews and his wife Ashley Harper in 2002. In 2003 the Matthews placed the entire farm under a protective land conservation easement, thereby safeguarding it against any possible development.

We pull over a few minutes later to visit the Angus and Devon cows. They immediately approach the fence and we cannot get over how chatty and friendly they are. These cows have been on this farm their entire life and have eaten nothing but grass.  Tracey talks to us about the health benefits of grass fed beef; it is a learner option full of healthy omega fats that also cooks and tastes differently then corn fed beef. Almost all of the BOWA cows are raised to about thirty months before being taken to T&E Meats in Harrisonburg for processing.

We hop back in the truck and wind our way around many farm fields to meet the Mangalitsa pigs.  Chris informs us that everything on the farm is organic.  He has been farming all of his life; he was born and raised on 500 acres about 10 miles away from BOWA. As we learn more about farm life, it is heartwarming to witness how much each team member enjoys what they do.  It truly shows in the well-cared for land, the happy animals and the quality of the product they sell. This grass fed farm share has been in existence since January of 2013.  Last month they had 30 share holders and they expect to grow significantly this year.

The wooly Mangalitsa pigs sleepily come up to greet us.  We have obviously woken them from a morning nap but that’s nothing a little feed and pig calls can’t fix!  They are sweet and friendly and strangely cute in their own mud-caked way. The Matthews have chosen to raise this rare, heritage breed of pigs because of their delicious red meat that has a thick layer of rich fat. These particular animals were brought from New Orleans last summer, from the farm where Chef John Besh breeds Mangalitsa pigs.

We say our goodbyes to the pigs and head back to the farm office to sign up for our beef shares. Tracey informs us that they will be sharing recipes to encourage the preparation of non-traditional cuts of meat, and we’re excited to be pushed to try something new every two months.  In addition, BOWAwill also be working with local producers to incorporate unique pairings each month.  This month, chocolate with bacon on top from Potts Chocolates has us excited for our first pick-up!

Join with a single share, which is approximately 10 pounds of selected beef packaged in our insulated logo cooler bag for $65 every two months. For a larger selection and quantity of beef, choose the double share for $90. Members will receive 5% off additional beef purchases if the year subscription is paid in advance by Saturday, February 23rd.  Please email inquiries, questions, and commitments: tracey@bestofwhatsaround.org or call (434)962-4241. Visit http://bestofwhatsaround.org/grassfed-beef/ for beef pricing. 

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Silky Cow

Fog curls around the hills as we make our way up to the dairy barn at Silky Cow Farm. Nathan Vergin emerges, customary hat and grin in place, to give us a tour of the facility and, most importantly, to introduce us to some of the friendliest cows we’ve ever met. But first its the milking parlor, where eight of Nathan’s 30 productive cows come in for their twice-daily milking. It is an impressive set-up and one that will be doubled this year, making room for the herd to expand and the operation to become even more efficient. Currently Nathan’s cows produce 60 gallons of milk each day; plenty for the 130 families that participate in the Silky Cow grass-fed raw milk share.

At 24, Nathan has been around farm animals his entire life, having grown up on his family farm in Minnesota. He purchased his first cow at 13, and his first dairy herd at 21. When asked what his favorite attribute of grass-fed raw milk is, Nathan answers “The flavor”. While he is a believer in the health benefits of drinking milk raw, he is not one to preach about them.

After bumping across a gravel road in the epitome of a farm truck, sticky door and all, we eagerly clamber down onto the field to greet the approaching mass of Jersey cows. Some break immediately for the bed of the truck, burying their noses in the hay that’s serving as the afternoon snack. One toffee-coated gal nuzzles up to Nathan for a chin rub, reminding us of a 1000-pound puppy desperate for her owner’s attention. A few of the friendly beasts cautiously approach us, curious about our cameras, and we each wind up with wide tongue slurps on our sleeves. Within minutes we’re surrounded, smitten, and scheming ways to fit a dairy cow in our own backyards.

Members of Silky Cow purchase a one-time herd share for $50, which is good for ten years. A monthly boarding fee of $28 ensures one gallon of milk each week to be picked up at the farm, or $34 for one gallon each week delivered to Charlottesville. To sign up for your share, email or call Nathan.

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The Rock Barn

We are big fans of The Rock Barn. Beyond the Flavor visited with Ben Thompson at the farm last summer, and caught up with Will Gray on a Porkshare delivery this week. Here’s what Will had to say about their unique Porkshare, and why those at The Rock Barn do what they do.

[words below by Will Gray]

From a culinary stand-point, there is perhaps no animal that boasts as rich and varied a cultural tradition as the pig. From Shanghai to Florence to New Orleans to Buenos Aires– as butchers, we’re proud to pay homage to the worldwide guild of the meat-cutter. And whether we draw inspiration from the country hams of Nelson County or the Jamón Ibérico of southern Spain, our goal is the same: to be representatives of the culture and the animal behind every piece of meat we eat.

We work with whole animals. It helps us remember that when you eat a bite of pork tenderloin, use a tablespoon of lard, or throw a sausage on the grill, you’re still requiring the sacrifice of the whole animal. The responsibility falls to us as butchers to find innovative and attractive uses for every part of the hog. That’s why each month, we create a Porkshare – a sort of “do-it-yourself” prix fixe menu for the local meat lover. Every share includes fresh cuts, sausages, and smoked meats from each of the four primals on a pig: the shoulder, the loin, the belly, and the leg. Each month’s share is $80.00, and each month’s share is different.  The customer provides a service to us by buying across the whole animal; we provide a service to the customer by offering an ever-changing assortment of products not otherwise available in a traditional supermarket.

We are overwhelmed by the support we have received from the Charlottesville area, both from retail clients and our restaurant partners. For a local food system to thrive, it is the cooks who bear the ultimate responsibility: they must produce delicious food, whether at home or in a restaurant.  My favorite part of the Porkshare is collaborating with local restaurants. Each month, an element of the Porkshare is paired with a recipe from a chef —his or her own personal spin on one of our products. Angelo Vangelopoulos (The Ivy Inn) and his Pork Sirloin Souvlaki, Chuck Adcock (Commonwealth) and his Bourbon-Braised Spareribs, Josh Naber (da Luca Cafe) and his Festie-Poached Bratwurst; it is very rewarding to see something that you do become something more, something new.

Porkshare is our way of best representing the craft we love and the animals we respect. We hope that for our customers, it’s more than just great bacon and pork chops; it’s a challenge to cook and eat more thoughtfully, to engage more fully with the what and the why and the how of where our food comes from.

The easiest way for people to sign up for The Porkshare is to email info@therockbarn.com. They can also call in orders at 434-263-4222. We’ll sign them up for our email list-serv to make sure they find out the details of each month’s offerings. Shares are available year-round, with monthly pick-ups here at the barn, in Nellysford, in Crozet, in Waynesboro, and in Charlottesville. Each month’s pick-up schedule is published along with the month’s menu via our email list-serv and our Facebook page. All shares are sold month-to-month, with no contractual commitment. Instead, we try to reward our die-hard Porkshare-ers with a 50% discount on every 6th share they order. After all, some people crush through it in a month and buy a la carte besides; some people take advantage of the Porkshare price, but only order once every few months. It’s all good to us, because it’s the aggregate of all the shares each month, rather than the individual buyer, that helps us sustain our whole-hog model. Our biggest winner, Ms. Kelley Flanders, is receiving her 16th Porkshare in 17 months!

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