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Cooperative farm share programs gain steam in Utah

By Kathy Stephenson

The Salt Lake Tribune

Published: Thursday, April 19 2012 2:05 p.m. MDT

Clinton Felsted, owner of the La Nay Ferme farm, inspects plants grown in tunnel of his farm in Provo, April 12, 2012. La Nay Ferme farm is Utah's newest CSA, Community Supported Agriculture Program. As the 2012 growing season gets under way, CSAs have taken root, giving busy consumers a way to buy fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as eggs, dairy and meat, directly from Utah farmers.

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SALT LAKE CITY — A decade ago, few Utahns had heard of Community Supported Agriculture programs, or CSAs.

But today, as the 2012 growing season gets under way, CSAs have taken root, giving busy consumers a way to buy fresh fruit and vegetables — as well as eggs, dairy and meat — directly from Utah farmers.

Those who want to join a CSA pay the fee, and in return receive a portion of the farm's produce during the growing season. Prices vary, but shares usually start at about $25 a week for one to two people.

A CSA gives farmers a regular cash flow, while consumers buy produce knowing exactly where their food comes from and how it's grown.

There are many reasons why consumers might sign up for a CSA. Some people don't have the land, or the inclination, to plant their own garden. Others use it to supplement what they grow in their own backyard, said Delite Primus, executive director of the Youth Garden Project in Moab, which has offered a CSA for four years.

"Many of our CSA members want to know what we provide so they can plant different vegetables," she said, adding that the "CSA also is a chance for us to educate people about what it really takes to grow organically."

Some local CSA farms are adding greenhouses or "high tunnels" made from metal and plastic to extend the growing season. With these structures, farmers are able to produce vegetables from the middle of May through the end of October, and in some cases, even year-round.

"That's becoming a trend for more and more farms," said Jack Wilbur, a community outreach specialist with the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food. "The more people you can serve close to year round, the more people who will join."

He pointed to Utah Farms, which launched earlier this year and is the state's first year-round crop-sharing network. It includes a group of 19 growers that take advantage of the state's diverse climate and topography to provide vegetables to CSA members all year long.

There also are several producers that offer poultry, pork, beef and lamb to consumers on a year-round basis.

Nationally, there are at least 4,000 CSAs across the country, according to LocalHarvest, an organic and local food website that keeps a database of small farms, farmers markets and other local food sources. In Utah, there are about 40.

One of the newest CSAs is La Nay Ferme, a one-acre farm in Provo, owned by Clinton Feldsted.

Over the past 10 months, Feldsted leased the land, hired farm manager Barbara Fuller and worked with numerous consultants to get the farm ready for production. They tested, tilled and added nutrients to the soil; built sturdy high-tunnel greenhouses made of galvanized steel and thick plastic; and planted thousands of seeds and seedlings.

Lettuces, arugula, chard, chives, spinach, peas, onion, garlic, leeks, carrots, turnips and strawberries are all flourishing at the farm, located next to a cemetery in the Utah County foothills. Nearly 60 volunteers, who get paid in produce, have helped Fuller prepare for the first crops.

Soon, the La Nay Ferme will deliver its first basket of produce to the members of its CSA program. Feldsted sees it as beginning of a new era of nutritious eating.

"I know that food is phenomenal when it's real," said Feldsted, who named the farm after his grandfather, who was named after La Nay, a French general and political leader in Napoleon's army. Ferme means "farm" in French.

Besides supplying CSA members with produce, La Nay Ferme will also sell food to Utah County restaurants.

The 39-year-old Feldsted, owner of Agemini, a successful software solutions company in Provo, has eaten in top restaurants around the world. "I've learned that food in America is really bad," he said. With the farm, "I can at least have the food that I want to eat and supply restaurants the food I love."

Gurus, Pantrucas and the Heirloom Restaurant Group — which includes Communal, Pizzeria 712 and Mountain West Burrito — will be serving produce from the farm.

And as the farm becomes profitable, Feldstead also hopes it will fund a foundation to offers classes and seminars in cooking, gardening and healthy living.

Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, http://www.sltrib.com

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