Story by Chris Graham

cherry-ridge1.gifYou can go to the chain grocery store and get something approximating fruits and vegetables.

I don’t know that the word fresh could be rightly applied to what you get there, but they are fruits and veggies.

You could do something completely different, though, and get actual fresh fruits and veggies from a farm just down the road a piece.

“It’s a different way of eating,” says David Beebe, the owner of Cherry Ridge Farm in Rockbridge Baths, talking about the farm’s Community Supported Agriculture program, through which customers can purchase a share of the produce from Cherry Ridge for an entire growing season and have a basket of goodies delivered to them each week.

“We give customers a selection of what’s in season, which means they get the tomatoes when they are ripe, the corn when it’s in season, and so on. They don’t get to choose their weekly iceberg lettuce or green beans out of the supermarket bin, so they are giving up a little bit in terms of choice, but they gain a lot in terms of quality and taste. The taste doesn’t even compare,” Beebe said.

Cherry Ridge has been operating a CSA program in Rockbridge and Lexington for three years now. This third growing season is the first that has seen the program expand into the Greater Augusta area with a dropoff and pickup point at Cranberry’s Grocery & Eatery in Staunton. Food from Cherry Ridge will be delivered to Cranberry’s for pickup every Tuesday by 1 p.m.

cherry-ridge3.gifNewcomers to the CSA program can sign up through April 11. The first of 27 weekly deliveries will be made May 13.

“They pay us in advance in the spring, this time of year, so we’re able to have some operating funds while we’re planting and fertilizing and doing what we do to get the crops in the ground. We don’t start selling anything until May, so it helps us to have some cash flow when we need it,” Beebe said in an interview for today’s “Augusta Free Press Show.”
New customers can also sign up for working shares, “which means that they contribute a little bit of labor to the farm, in most cases eight hours over the course of the season, in exchange for a little bit of a price discount on their share,” said Anne Lemon, the CSA coordinator at Cherry Ridge Farm.

The shares are attracting a niche customer right now, Lemon said, “but our hope, and the hope of a lot of people in the local-foods movement, is that one day it won’t be such a niche customer, that one day there will be many more people that wants to be more connected to their farms and more connected to their food source.”

“Our customers are pretty educated folks,” Lemon said. “Part of the reason is that half of our market is a college town and a college area, being Lexington and Rockbridge. So that’s a natural. The other thing that’s natural about it is that those kinds of people that are becoming really conscious about local foods and food miles and just all the issues related to sustainable food production and just how unsustainable our food-production system is in America.”

Kathleen Stinehart, the owner of Cranberry’s Eatery & Grocery, felt her business’s participation in the Cherry Ridge CSA program was a no-brainer.

“Everything old is new again,” Stinehart said. “We’re fortunate in this area because we’re right in the Shenandoah Valley, and we have better access to these things. It’s just a matter of coming up with systems that work for busy townspeople and fit with what farmers can do also.”
It’s a labor of love for Beebe, who has been an organic farmer for four decades.

“I was sort of, as the old country song went, organic before it was cool,” Beebe said.



Chris Graham is the executive editor of The Augusta Free Press.

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