A funny thing happened on the way to the grocery store
You won’t catch Letty Flatt eating fast food.
Flatt, the executive pastry chef for Deer Valley Resort, says she knows that good food takes time to prepare at work and at home. It also takes fresh ingredients.
Every week from about May to October, Flatt receives a small crate spilling over with leafy greens, basil, arugula, tomatoes and a handful of about 80 varieties of garlic. Some of the produce comes from mustard plants. Some tastes like wasabe.
Perhaps the most unusual aspect of the food-in-a-box that arrives on Flatt’s doorstep is that, unlike some of the options at the drive-thru window, she knows where it comes from and the farmers that grow it.
Sue Post and John Garofalo own and operate Ranui Gardens, one of two small farms in Summit County that offer fresh vegetables and herbs to consumers without sending them to the grocery store or farmers’ market. The concept has an intimidating name, Community Supported Agriculture, but it’s the quality of the food that attracts Flatt and 35 other families to pay a few hundred dollars in the spring for a share of the goods grown on the farm each week.
"Flavor is really important," Flatt said. "And it’s important as a nation to support local farmers."
Ranui Gardens was started in 1984 and is the oldest organic farm in Summit County. Copper Moose Farm, the other CSA in Summit County, supplies about 40 families with seasonal produce and cut flowers once a week. The farms provide beans, broccoli, potatoes, spinach, radishes, turnips and leeks, among other produce.
One box of produce from either Ranui Gardens or Copper Moose serves a family of four for about a week. The produce is a supplement to going to the market, not a replacement.
A vegetable share at Copper Moose costs about $800 and both farms offer shares of their CSA on a first-come-first-serve basis. The state boasts a total of eight CSA farms, according to Christi Paulsen of Slow Food Utah, a nonprofit devoted to sustainable agriculture, or, as Paulsen explains, "good, clean and fair food."
The organization held a dinner at Copper Moose Aug. 16 to raise money for micro-grants that they hope will aid small farmers in the state. Paulsen declined to say how much money the dinner raised or when grant money would be rewarded, but she estimated that they would be given in increments of $2,500 and less. "The] food at the event] was awesome," she said. "It brought a sense of community to the idea of sustainability."
One of the economic advantages of buying local, Paulsen said, is that consumers reinvest in the communities where they live.
Ranui Gardens usually has a wait list with about two-thirds of its rolls made up of returning customers. "We think a CSA is health assurance instead of health insurance," Gafalo said. "If you’re proactive about eating good food you’re going to live a better life."
Post and Garofalo started working on the farm in 1998 and became the owners of the three-acre plot in Dog Holler in 2002. The farm became certified organic and certified biodynamic in 1989.
The couple elected not to reapply to be certified organic through the Food and Drug Administration, Post said, because the organic movement en masse has gone away from supporting small local operations. She said simply, "Our standards are higher."
The farm employs many organic practices. It avoids the use of herbicides and pesticides and keeps it acreage diverse with plant life.
Some of their practices are not standard organic farming practice. They look to constellations and the cycles of the moon for appropriate times to plant.
The task of making a living on the land is a daunting prospect for farmers at an elevation of more than 6,000 feet, Garofalo says, where the frosts of late spring and early fall often freeze crops before they are ripe.
The chilly weather leaves just 70 days to raise and harvest crops without the assistance of greenhouses. That window may not seem slim until it is compared to the 22-week season more moderate climates, such as California, enjoy.
"Timing is everything," Post said. "If you don’t get things in the ground when you’re suppose to, there’s no catching up."
In1998, about the time that Post and her partner took control of Ranui Gardens, that they decided to appeal to individuals who would pay upfront for produce grown on the farm so that the young couple would have plenty of capital to get seeds in the ground before money started flowing from produces sales at farmers’ markets and food sales to restaurants.
Typically, a CSA consists of a community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation so the growers and consumers provide mutual support and share the risks and benefits of food production, according to the U.S. Department of Food and Agriculture. As Flatt explains, "I’m in the boat with the farmer."
Customers don’t know exactly how much food or what kind they will receive week to week. And if an early frost hits Summit County in September, as it did this year, farmers have the flexibility to alter the menu without losing money.
"The CSA is just a small part of what we do," Garofalo said. "But it’s pretty intense the amount of time we spend picking and preparing food."
On the day of delivery, Garofalo awakens at sunrise with two farmhands to begin picking and sorting produce, which travels about 10 miles from the spot it was grown to the consumer’s refrigerator. His day doesn’t finish until about 9 p.m.
Coupled with early mornings at farmers markets in Salt Lake City and Park City, the summer season can be a grind for small farmers in the area, and Garofalo knows it could be slim pickings without the cash flow of the CSA.
Ranui Gardens makes $3,000 to $5,000 a year from its CSA. "In the grand scheme of things, it’s a lot of money," Garofalo said.
The perk for consumers is that they get to ask questions and understand how food is grown. "We treat our farm like a holistic farm organism, a complete entity. People get to know the growing pattern and become familiar with what’s in season. They share the risk with the farmer and they reap the benefits."
One of the key components to assure freshness is to ask vendors at markets and grocery stores where food was grown. She said to watch out for produce that isn’t currently in season and recommended consumers buy tomatoes, corn, onions, peaches, green beans, apples and raspberries in the late summer and early fall.
Flatt, who provides recipes for the produce included in each of Ranui’s weekly CSA deliveries, said that people don’t need to be professional chefs to whip raw ingredients into meals. She said the shelf life of produce bought in the community continues to impress her. "Grocery greens aren’t the same," she said. "They’ve been on a truck for two days. It’s not like garlic is just pulled from the garlic cellar."
The hard-necked garlic grown at Ranui one of the best examples of how far from the genetically modified vine most store-bought produce have fallen. The garlic is knotted into a tight fist of mauve, almost purple, cloves. "People think everything comes from the grocery store," Post laughed.
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