Utah community farms take root, offer fresh summer eating
Marty and Maryann Alston are the ultimate urban farming family.
Three years ago the young couple coordinated the launch of the Wasatch Front Farmers Market at Wheeler Farm in Murray.
The following year, they helped create farmers markets at Gardener Village in West Jordan and Thanksgiving Point in Lehi.
And in 2013, they opened the Urban Farm and Feed Market Store at 5823 S. State, which sells their farm-grown produce and other local products year-round.
While that seems like plenty for a young couple raising two boys, the Alstons aren't finished yet.
This year they are starting Utah's newest Community Supported Agriculture Program or CSA.
"The reason for all this the markets, the store and the CSA is that we really want to get people more in tune with the food they eat," said Marty Alston.
He recites a popular phrase to explain his point: "Once in your life you need a doctor, lawyer, policeman and preacher. But every day, three times a day you need a farmer."
"You should know your farmer better than you know your doctor," he said, "and a CSA is one way of doing that."
Growing trend • Two decades ago, few Utahns had heard of a CSA. But as the 2014 growing season gets underway, these farm-to-fork programs have taken root, giving busy consumers a way to buy fresh fruit and vegetables as well as eggs, meat, cheese and more directly from farmers.
For those who want to join a CSA, sign-ups are underway and will continue through the end of April or first of May, depending on the farmer. Just pay the fee now, and in return receive a portion of the farm's produce during the growing season. Prices vary, but shares usually start around $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, said Jack Wilbur, a community outreach specialist with the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food (UDAF). 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 backyard.
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 more than 30. (See the list accompanying this story.) Wilbur said most of the farmers on the list have several drop-off points throughout the Wasatch Front to make it convenient for customers to pick up their shares.
"If you can make the commitment, you can't go wrong," he said. "It's a wonderful way to have a great supply of fresh food all summer long."
Urban CSA • Fresh food is the mantra at the Alston's Urban Farm and Feed CSA.
The couple is leasing 7 acres more than double the 3 acres they worked last year in Murray, Draper, Holladay and West Valley City. The plots had not been farmed in several years and land owners, such as Ed Packer, were happy to get the soil back into production.
"I'm glad to see it being used," he said of the 1-acre Draper plot he lets the Alston's farm.
What's not to like, as the Alston's pay the water costs and Packer and his wife can enjoy as many fresh vegetables as they like, with plenty left over for the CSA and markets.
"You can produce a lot of food off 1 acre," he said.
The Alstons already have 25 early season crops planted, including beets, peas, turnips, kohlrabi, radicchio, arugula, kale and collard greens. They'll start planting more as the weather gets warmer. In all, they plan to grow 200 varieties of vegetables throughout the season, said Alston.
While the farm is not certified as organic, it follows sustainable and organic practices. Urban Farm and Feed produce is free of pesticides and commercial fertilizers. Instead, goats and chickens help with weed and pest control and they provided manure that is tilled back into the soil. The chickens also provide eggs for the CSA.
Fortunately for the Alstons, and others farmers, eating fresh, local food is a high priority for Utahns, according to a recent UDAF public opinion poll.
Almost all or 97 percent of the 400 Utah consumers interviewed said "freshness" was the most important factor when shopping for food. Nutritional value, was a close second, mentioned by 85 percent of those questioned.
In addition, more than half 53 percent believed "locally grown" also was an important factor.
"What we are seeing is more and more people putting emphasis on buying local," Wilbur said. "If they're not, they should be because, in my opinion, there's a strong correlation between freshness, nutritional value and locally grown."
Community Supported Agriculture in Utah
Here is a list of Utah CSAs. Prices, delivery dates and what each farm provides is available by contacting individual farms or through the CSAUtah website: csautah.org. Most CSAs have drop-off points in several locations throughout the Wasatch Front.
3 Squares Produce • Salt Lake City; 801-243-2801 or http://www.3squaresproduce.com/csa
Adams Heirlooms • Midvale; 801-209-6739 or http://adamsheirlooms.com/
Appenzell Farm • Hyde Park; 435-535-1121 or http://www.appenzellfarm.com
Backyard Urban Garden (B.U.G.) Farms • Salt Lake City; 801-718-7478 or http://www.backyardurbangardens.com
Bell Organic Gardens • Draper; 801-571-7288 or http://www.bellorganic.com
Blue Spring Farm • Tremonton; 435-279-0563
Borski Farms • Kaysville; 801-941-9620 or http://www.borskifarms.org
Bryan Palmer • Wellsville; http://www.csautah.org/find-a-csa
Christiansen Family Farm • Vernon; 435-839-3482 or http://www.christiansenfarm.com
Copper Moose Farm • Park City; 435-604-0497 or http://www.coppermoosefarm.com
Creekside Lane Organics • Moab; 435-259-5425 or http://www.creeksidelaneorganics.com/farm/
Cricket Song Farm • Beryl; 435-630-6587
East Farms • West Point; 801-525-2219 or http://www.eastfarmscsa.com
Johnson Family Farm • Logan; 435-754-5638 or http://www.johnsonfamilyfarms.com/
La Nay Ferme • Provo; http://lanayferme.com/
Heritage Valley Poultry • Tremonton; 435-770-2365
Lau Family Farm • Soda Springs, Idaho; 208-547-3180 or http://www.laufamilyfarm.com
Little Weber Farms • Hooper; 801-686-4729 or http://www.littleweberfarms.com/
Live and Thrive • Holladay; 801-278-5313 or http://liveandthrive.com/Gardening/Local_Community_Gardening/Home
Petersen Family Farm • Riverton; 801-999-8548 or http://petersenfarm.com/
Ranui Gardens • Dog Holler; http://www.ranui.com
Red Acre Farm • Cedar City; 435-865-6792 or http://www.redacrefarmcsa.org/
Red House Farm • Boulder; 435-335-7654 or http://redhousecollective.webs.com/
Roberts Ranch and Gardens • Spanish Fork' 801-836-0232 or http://robertsranch.org
Sadee's Pride • West Valley City; 801-554-0553
Soup and Salad Club • Wales; 435-469-1161
South Meadows Produce • Price; 435-650-6139
Tagge's Famous Fruit • Perry; http://www.taggesfamousfruit.com
USU Student Organic Farm • North Logan; 435-797-3192.
Utah Farms CSA • Draper; http://www.utahfarmscsa.com/
Youth Garden Project • Moab; 435-259-2326 or http://www.youthgardenproject.org
Zoe's Garden • Layton; 801-721-8238 or http://www.zoegarden.com
How a CSA works
Individuals or families pay a fee in the spring to become a member or "shareholder" of a Community Supported Agriculture program. The cash allows farmers to prepare the soil, buy seeds or purchase equipment to produce their crops. In return, shareholders receive a weekly portion of the farm's bounty, usually from the end of May through October. Most farmers have several drop-off locations to make it more convenient for members to pick up their produce.