Sharing produce with their friends and neighbors in Pocahontas County is a dream come true for farmers Dawn Baldwin-Barrett and Steve Saffel.
For years, both farmers have sold vegetables, fruit and meats at the Pocahontas County Farmers Market, but they were always looking for something more. After much discussion and planning, the two farmers put it all on the table and started Produce on the Move, Pocahontas County’s first CSA – Community Supported Agriculture – program. Saffel and Baldwin-Barrett met through the Farmers Market and the aggregation distribution route which was started by AmeriCorps volunteer Joe Heathcock. After Heathcock left the county for another job, Baldwin- Barrett continued the route.
“I was one of the farmers she was buying from and I told her that I had planned on starting a CSA, so we decided to partner this year,” Saffel said. “We got a little bit later start than we had anticipated because I wasn’t planting as much stuff, but we just decided to do it.”
“It all sort of came together this summer,” Baldwin-Barrett said.
Baldwin-Barrett added a Produce on the Move section to the website for her farm, Brightside Acres, and subscribers began signing up.
“The public response has been positive,” Baldwin- Barrett said. “Mainly because some people just don’t have the time or the green thumb to tend to gardens.”
“I started posting on Facebook and people started saying ‘great’ because although lots and lots of people grow their own gardens in Pocahontas, some people don’t.”
Along with the need for gardens, Saffel said he thinks people want to support the farmers in Pocahontas County and know that he and Baldwin-Barrett won’t sell anything less than perfect.
“Some people just generally want to support us in our business,” he said. “We’re environmentally friendly. We’re all organic. We pasture our pork and chickens, and we have free range turkeys. We’re probably going to get a little more stuff next year. I have honeybees. Dawn has a lot of herbs and teas, so we have a pretty wide assortment of stuff. Dawn grows a lot different stuff than I do. We try to fill in with other organic producers.”
“We consider that we are serving people who really look for high quality, organic food because that’s what they value in their life,” Baldwin-Barrett added. “We want to provide that high quality. We’re both cooks and we love to eat. If it doesn’t meet our standards, we’re not putting it in the basket. It’s different from some CSAs in that manner. You are getting things that are beautifully prepared, they’re cleaned, they’re ready to go and they’re grown at the highest standards. We do not use chemicals, period.”
While Saffel and Baldwin- Barrett supply 90 percent of the produce they sell, they turn to other area farmers to help fill that last 10 percent.
“Scott and Lindsey Hayes, they’re our northern most grower,” Baldwin-Barrett said. “Roland and Judy Cutlip in Hillsboro have been big suppliers of our tomatoes. Tolly Peuleche has been providing beautiful bouquets of flowers. We actually work with a grower who is right outside the county between Hillsboro and Renick – Bootstraps Farm – it’s Michael Buttrill. He’s very involved in Greenbrier County.”
The subscriptions, or “buy-in” for the CSA is either quarterly or monthly. Subscribers may select a July through November subscription or a spring, summer or fall subscription.
“For 2015, we’re offering a similar thing,” Baldwin- Barrett said. “We’re saying you can sign up on a monthly basis, but we’re offering a discount if you sign up either seasonally for the spring season, which would be April, May and June. That would be one season and you would get a discount for signing up for those three months or summer season which would be July, August, September or then fall season which would be October, November. Or, you could sign up for the entire season from April to November for a higher discount.”
Several current subscribers have already signed up for the 2015 season. At this time, 22 individuals subscribe – a number that is close to ideal for Saffel and Baldwin-Barrett.
“We’re thinking twenty-five to thirty is where we kind of want to be and we believe that now that we know there is an interest in this, that there is a demand for this, we’re well positioned and so are many other growers around the county to plan to succession plant, to use our high tunnels and low tunnels, to extend the growing season,” Baldwin Barrett said. “A lot of people have said to me, ‘are you kidding? You can’t grow from April to November,’ and we really believe that we can. We do have the technologies with these high and low tunnels to do exactly that.”
Each Thursday, from 2 to 5 p.m., Saffel and Baldwin- Barrett can be found at the Produce on the Move store, located in the old Pocahontas Woods building. Subscribers pick up their baskets at this time and walk-ins are able to peruse the produce, as well.
“We’re here two to five on Thursday for walk-ins this year,” Baldwin-Barrett said. “We anticipate for next year delivering every Thursday afternoon to the NRAO. We have about nine customers who pick up from us there and we have several who pick up in Slaty Fork at the Fiddlehead restaurant which has been so gracious to let us use that as a drop-off/pick-up spot.”
Although the CSA is strictly for individuals, several subscribers own restaurants or work in cafeterias where they use the produce they purchase.
“Regular customers of ours that are commercial are Locust Hill – Paula [Zorn] is now doing a weekly organic meal that is made from local foods she is getting here,” Baldwin-Barrett said. “Elk River and the Fiddlehead and NRAO, they all use our produce.”
While Saffel and Baldwin- Barrett come from very different backgrounds, those backgrounds had one thing in common – a love for fresh produce.
Saffel grew up in Fauquier County, Virginia, but is a Pocahontas County boy through and through. His family has been on the same farm in Minnehaha Springs since 1764. Every summer, Saffel would come “home” to the county to work on the farm, a job that became full-time when he moved to the county with his wife, Mary.
“I was full-time farming for the last fifteen years at the house,” Saffel said. “The original farm is three miles up Knapps Creek from Minnehaha. My mother and father still live there. It’s never left the family.”
Baldwin-Barrett grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, where she learned to love the garden and what it could produce.
“I had a lot of time spent with my great-grandmother who just had an amazing backyard garden,” she said. “As a child, I always wanted to go over there and pick things. I just became enamored of the idea that you could go over there and pick stuff, and fix it for lunch. I just fell in love with it. In my family’s little backyard, I started growing things, growing tomatoes, growing zucchini as a kid.”
Baldwin-Barrett permanently moved to Pocahontas County around 2009 and has continued what she started in that backyard in Memphis.
“As soon as I got up here, even when it was part-time, I was growing things,” she said. “To me, this is just a dream come true because for whatever reason, it’s in my blood to do it and I just love it.”
Watching the two prepare baskets for their subscribers, the care and discipline they both put into growing and preparing produce is obvious. The attention to detail is what makes the partnership work so well.
“We bring different knowledge and experience, but a similar value system and goals to what we’re doing,” Baldwin Barrett explained. “Again, one of the biggest motivations I think is just loving quality food, loving to eat and loving to cook.”
“And trying to educate people on a better way of living,” Saffel added. “Sustainability – I try to get as much stuff as I can local. If I make a trip, I try to make it worthwhile and buy in huge bulk. I only make a couple trips a year. Ninety percent of what I eat, I grow myself. I fall off, I’ve got to get sugar, a candy bar every now and then.”
“If we could figure out how to grow rice in Pocahontas County, that would be great for me,” Baldwin-Barrett said, laughing.
Having two skilled, veteran growers provide the produce is an added plus, because they know how to pair the items and can help subscribers think of innovative ways to cook with items in the basket.
“To all of our customers and suppliers, I send out a weekly newsletter,” Baldwin-Barrett said. “Every couple of weeks, I try to include a couple recipes or ideas for ways to preserve and easy ways to sauté, grill and bake. A lot of our customers are foodie types, but then there are those who just want to be healthier and haven’t really been cooking lately so they’re very thankful to get advice.
“Our CSA customers come in here and they say, ‘you know, I’ve never cooked eggplant before’ or ‘I didn’t know I liked it,’” Baldwin-Barrett continued. “They’re trying new things. This is pushing them to cook more and try new things. This idea that it takes too much time or it’s beyond our capacities to do, it’s just not true. It’s just a matter of getting over that hump.”
For more information on the Produce on the Move program, visit www.bright sideacres.com and click on “Pocahontas County Produce on the Move” in the left-hand column.
Saffel may be contacted at 304-799-6915.