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Brian Nicholson, Deseret Morning News
Organic farmer John Borski, who sells "shares" of his harvest, tends seedlings at his Kaysville farm.

KAYSVILLE — On Feb. 14 of each year, organic farmer John Borski sows the seeds of some 50 tomato plants, a Valentine's Day labor of love.

As tomato seedlings poke up, Borski and employee Mike Chynoweth transplant them to containers in the greenhouse. Borski monitors the tiny plants day and night, getting up at 3 a.m. daily to check propane heaters protecting the plants from freezing.

When temperatures are warm enough, Borski plants them outside.

"We always start them from seed," Borski said. "And if you can get that to grow up and be a good kid, you win. It takes about four, five or six months."

Borski participates in community-supported agriculture, selling "shares" of his harvest from his Kaysville-based farm to customers along the Wasatch Front each year. Community-supported agriculture is a partnership with local farmers in which members pay a fee up front to help with the farm's operating expenses. In return, they get a portion of the farm's produce throughout the growing season.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, community-supported agriculture has been gaining momentum in Utah and nationwide. Farmland has decreased along the Wasatch Front because of spreading development, and the once-familiar roadside stands selling fruit and vegetables have dwindled, but the demand for local produce has remained strong.

The number of Utah farms participating in community-supported agriculture is growing, with about 10 statewide, said Jeff Williams, a U.S. Department of Agriculture liaison for the nonprofit Great Salt Lake Resource, Conservation and Development. This year, Draper farm Bell Organic Gardens is the latest to participate.

As millions of acres of farmland have been sold to developers, community-supported agriculture provides farmers with an incentive to continue working on the land.

"This is also a great way to preserve local farmland," Williams said.

A former dancer with the New York City Ballet, Borski was a Sugarplum Cavalier in "The Nutcracker" and Basil in "Don Quixote." He returned to Utah and resurrected his grandfather's farm in 1992, and he now prides himself on his varieties of tomatoes — such as Martha Washington cherry tomatoes, Taxi yellow tomatoes and Zebra green and yellow tomatoes.

A share at Borski's farm is one bag a week for 15 weeks containing about one pound of food. A spring bag could contain radishes, lettuce, spinach, garlic, cherries and peas. A summer bag could contain tomatoes, eggplant, corn, peppers and peaches. A fall bag could contain melons, potatoes, winter squash and apples.

One share at Borski's farm costs $190 per share for the season and is enough for two adults. Customers pick up their shares in Salt Lake City, Kaysville and South Ogden.

Borski is enrolling customers through April 30. But the number of customers he and other community-supported farmers can accept is limited, and space is filling up fast, so customers need to sign up soon.

Williams said community-supported agriculture benefits individuals and the local economy.

"It allows you to eat a local diet," he said. "And there's not a lot of transportation costs involved."

Transportation for food in a typical meal in the United States is about 1,200 miles, he said. But community-supported farms generally draw customers from within about 50 miles. Buying local produce keeps more money within the local economy because profits remain here rather than being sent to a large national chain, and transportation costs are vastly reduced.

"The real benefit economically is it keeps dollars in this community," Williams said.

Debbie Stone, a resident of Salt Lake City's Avenues neighborhood, has been a "shareholder" for five years in East Farms, based in West Point. She said she enjoys using community-supported agriculture to teach her children about ecology, farming and diet.

"I think we save money," she said. "There's the stuff that shows up in your box every week, and you've got to figure some way to use it. I'm a person who hates to waste food or money."

Stone eats a mostly vegetarian diet, and with her East Farms food, she has gotten creative with vegetables she wouldn't normally buy, such as turnips and rutabagas.

Her spinach lasagna with walnuts and mushrooms is most popular with her children.

"Our rule is they have to try everything, and if they don't like it, that's OK," said Stone, who like many supporters of community-supported agriculture has read Michael Pollan's book "Omnivore's Dilemma," which describes the adverse affects of most Americans' diets.

Borski has one of the oldest community-supported agriculture programs in Utah. A family friend showed him an article about community-supported agriculture 15 years ago, but Borski didn't think the idea would take hold in Utah, telling the friend, "I think you're crazy. People feed their families hot dogs and fish sticks in this state."

But the family friend offered Borski $1,000 for a box of food a week over a growing season, and Borski built clientele mostly through word-of-mouth.

Borski's acreage in Kaysville and Layton can support about 400 shares. He usually has so many applicants that he has to return checks.

"I'm about 30 percent CSA, 30 percent farmer's market and 30 percent restaurants," he said.

E-mail: lhancock@desnews.com