Full diet community supported agriculture (CSAs) have been in practice for quite some time around the world. The idea is for one farm to provide a mix of vegetables, meats, dairy products and grains to provide for the full dietary needs of its customers. For a number of years, Grow Ohio Valley has been providing a CSA in Wheeling. The shares have typically included vegetables and fruits from local farms with the addition of eggs and sometimes meat. In November 2021 Grow Ohio Valley’s Big Wheeling Agrarian Center launched an 8-week full-diet CSA, the first of its kind in the Upper Ohio Valley.
The full diet CSA is an incredible service for those looking for easy ways to consume locally-produced food. Learn more about how this service works and how you can learn more about how Grow Ohio Valley is growing quality food, supporting local farmers, and training the next generation of innovative producers.
How does a CSA work?
Typically, CSA members pay for a season of food upfront from a local farm.They sign a contract with the farm that has a beginning and end date with the member receiving a weekly basket of the farm’s bounty throughout the length of the membership.
Grow Ohio Valley’s CSA is unique in that it is also set up to take customers who are using SNAP benefits to buy their household food. Under the SNAP Double Bucks program recipients can use their EBT card to purchase fresh vegetables and fruits at half the cost – this stretches EBT dollars further and allows folks to purchase the CSA share at half the price. Grow Ohio Valley has gone even further and set up a payment plan for SNAP recipients so buying a CSA share mimics their regular shopping pattern and doesn’t deplete their monthly funds in one purchase.
What is the Big Wheeling Agrarian Center?
Grow Ohio Valley began farming various urban plots around the city 5-6 years prior to finding 25 acres of rural land alongside Big Wheeling Creek to lease. This is the land that has become the Big Wheeling Agrarian Center. The organization saw the need for more acreage for its own projects, as well as educational agricultural opportunities.
Big Wheeling Agrarian Center’s Farm Manager Matt Pounds speaks of the loss of generational knowledge surrounding agriculture. Chefs and farmers alike often refer to this loss of knowledge. There are ways of tending to the land and preparing and preserving food that is no longer widely learned in our current society. Eventually, instead of doing the work themselves or having seen it firsthand, the work is only spoken of and it takes just a few generations for a method of cooking or farming to be completely lost. Pounds and his team at the Big Wheeling Agrarian Center are hoping to provide education so these skills can be passed on to a new generation of people.
Currently, the Big Wheeling Agrarian Center has 1 acre of vegetables in production in 350 ft. long beds. One major difference between the Grow Ohio Valley urban sites and the rural site is the use of machinery. While the urban sites employ a strictly “no-till” method of farming, the rural site makes use of plows and tillers to prepare beds for planting. Pounds says the main focus on the vegetable operation at the agrarian center is on the microorganisms in the soil. The team has put a lot of effort into nurturing the soil and providing nutrition for the microorganisms in the soil to thrive.
Who’s growing the food? What’s in the share?
The current team at the Big Wheeling Agrarian Center consists of Matt Pounds, farm manager; Mikealea Skidmore, vegetable and plant lead; Justice Hudson, Americorps member; and Josh DeShong, Americorps member. Pounds and Skidmore bring the experience of working on larger CSA farms to Wheeling, while Grow Ohio Valley’s revolving Americorps members bring an enthusiastic desire to learn and grow for the community at large.
I asked Skidmore to provide an example of what a weekly share would look like for members. Those who opt in to the full share can expect to receive the following on a weekly basis:
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1 lb. bacon
2 lbs. pork chops
1 whole chicken
½ gallon milk
1 dozen eggs
2 lbs. potatoes
1 lb. carrots
½ lb. spinach
1.5 lbs. oats
As a local chef, I’m personally excited to be collaborating with the Big Wheeling Agrarian Center on a weekly menu plan and recipes for the full diet CSA members. Along with the CSA, all the members receive a weekly email with a meal plan and accompanying recipes. This collaboration between chef and farmer should help members to feel confident to use the whole share in an easy way ensuring there is no waste and optimal use of all the ingredients. From making yogurt with your milk to gnocchi with your potatoes, our partnership aims to expand the culinary horizon of the members and excite folks about local food.
For those who don’t eat meat or dairy, there are shares available also for vegetarians and vegans. Recipes and meal plans will also be provided for vegan and vegetarian members.
Team Work Makes the Dream Work
In order to provide a “full diet,” the Big Wheeling Agrarian Center has partnered with a few local farms for its first fall CSA. Among those farms is Weatherbury Farm in Avella, PA and Ross Farm in Eighty Four, PA. Weatherbury Farm is a family-run organic farm that is nationally known for its exceptional organic grains. Weatherbury will be providing local grains for the weekly shares. They grow everything from bread flour to polenta, oats and dried beans. Ross Farm will be providing their pasture-raised pork for the shares.
Eggs, vegetables, chicken and milk will be coming directly from Grow Ohio Valley’s farm sites. The fall CSA came at the perfect time, as the farmers markets across the Ohio Valley close for the season at the end of October.
While shares are currently sold out for the fall CSA, Grow Ohio Valley expects to continue the program in the spring. So, if local food is something you’re interested in then follow Grow Ohio Valley and sign up for their mailing list to be the first to know about future CSA opportunities and other community programs and events.
• Melissa Rebholz was born and raised in Buffalo, New York, to a Sicilian/German family. She grew up in a household revolving around food. In 2007, a summer of volunteering for GrowNYC (New York City’s Farmer’s Markets) led her down the path to culinary school at The Natural Gourmet Institute and 10 subsequent years of farming from Long Island to Sonoma to Tennessee. Working simultaneously in kitchens to support her farming habit, Melissa migrated back to the rustbelt in October of 2019 to help Grow Ohio Valley open the Public Market as the head chef. Her hobbies include foraging, baking, dinner parties and exploring her new home of Wheeling, West Virginia.