How to eat from a single source. –Mark Dewey
Rob Moutoux likens running a whole-diet CSA to homesteading for an extended family. This year’s family numbers 85 people.
They live in Leesburg, Ashburn and Reston, closer to grocery outlets where the aisles are wide, the floors are waxed and the items are so numerous you can’t really see them, but every week they drive from their neighborhoods to a barn on 60 acres in the northern tip of Loudoun County. It’s here, at Moutoux Orchard, where Moutoux and his wife, Maureen, lay out the week’s harvest. Earlier this summer, the spread included strawberries, turnips, beets, kale, spinach, bok choy, lettuces, squash, herbs, raw milk, yogurt, pork, lamb, chicken, beef, butter, two kinds of eggs, four kinds of flour and honey.
All those things, and many more, are available every day within the industrial food grid, but CSA member Katy Lester drives from Washington to that barn in Purcellville anyway. “I go to the grocery store for olive oil and citrus,” says Lester. “That’s all.”
Whole-diet CSAs are extreme versions of a model called Community Supported Agriculture, under which consumers pay farmers in advance—subscription farming. Most CSAs offer a certain kind of food like meat, dairy or produce, but few sell whole-farm combinations encompassing much of the dietary spectrum, and a very few, including Moutoux Orchard, sell all of the components the average human body needs: carbohydrates, fats, proteins and fruit- and vegetable-derived vitamins and minerals.
For farmers, the CSA model’s advantage is clear: a level of financial stability that’s not available on the commodities market or at the farmers market. But for consumers, the options are limited and payment is needed up front; its benefits are not as obvious.
Paula Trimble says before joining the Maryland-based Groundworks Farm, another one of the area’s whole-diet CSAs, she described herself as “a typical foodie working mother” who dined in restaurants several times a week and often bought produce out of season. “I ate what I wanted when I wanted it,” she says. “Now I eat what I get when I get it.”
Waiting for nature to signal what’s ready to eat versus taking advantage of the globally sourced options available year-round can feel counterintuitive in today’s instant-everything playing field. “It feels so much better to wait on pins and needles for those first tomatoes to come in than to just go out and buy some from another country in the middle of winter,” says Trimble.
Margaret Brown, who launched Groundworks with her husband, Kevin, four years ago, exemplifies a new generation of farmers who come to the profession not from farming families but from suburban households and liberal arts colleges. The Browns apprenticed at sustainable farms all over the country and instituted their own program covering crop planning, field preparation and pasturing poultry.
Moutoux, a third generation farmer, shifted his family’s conventional peach operation to the current model eight years ago, gradually diversifying into vegetables, grains and animals. Concentrating on soil health, he tests it for a range of minerals to foster microbial activity and boost nutritional density and flavor complexity of crops.
“You should be able to find 25 earthworms in a cubic foot of soil,” he says, quoting a benchmark passed on from farmer to farmer.
But there’s more to it than food and dirt. Whole-diet CSAs create an additional layer of interconnectedness between farmer and buyer. “I want this to be more than an exchange of food for money,” says Brown. “Members make a commitment to eat from our farm, and I feel committed to helping them to do that well.”
CSA member Brooke Northrip feels the same. “I think small, local farms are incredibly important as a counterpoint to the whole farm-industrial complex that is running today,” she says. “Not only are we supporting local jobs, we’re helping a business to farm and raise animals in a manner that’s in line with our view of how food should be treated.”
A lot of people seem to think it’s time for that: Moutoux Orchard’s shares for 2015 sold out in an hour and a half.
Day Spring Farm: Meat, vegetable and Farmer’s Delight CSA; pick-ups in Arlington, Vienna and at the farm; 21388 Steptoe Hill Road, Middleburg
Groundworks Farm: Vegetable, egg, meat, cheese and whole-farm shares, summer and winter seasons; pick-ups in Arlington and Alexandria; 8284 Gumboro Road, Pittsville, Maryland
Moutoux Orchard: Full-year, whole-diet CSA; pick-ups at the farm with shares on sale in March; 15290 Purcellville Road, Purcellville
Yeehaw Farm: Full-year, whole-diet CSA; pick-ups at the farm; 51 Rohrer Drive, Duncannon, Pennyslvania