If every household in the commonwealth spent $10 of their total grocery dollars each week on locally grown food, more than $1.65 billion would be reinvested annually in Virginia farms, businesses and the community, according to the Virginia Cooperative Extension. Eating locally is also better for the environment, and the food generally tastes better and is more nutritious.
Fortunately, it’s fairly easy to become a “locavore” (defined as someone who eats locally) in Chesterfield. Residents can easily purchase locally grown foods through farmers’ markets, co-ops, community supported agriculture (CSA) and other sources. Buylocalvirginia.org is an online guide to search for local food sources. The database is searchable by county or zip code, and includes farms, farmers’ markets, grocers, restaurants and CSA.
Fall Line Farms
Fall Line Farms is a co-op that connects 100 producers who serve the Richmond area with local customers looking for fresh food year-round. Customers visit the Fall Line Farms website to place weekly orders between Friday and Monday evening and then pick up their orders on Thursday afternoon. The product offerings hit all the major food groups and include meat (grass-fed beef, chicken, lamb, pork, bison), fresh cheeses, eggs, fruits, nuts, vegetables, herbs, baked goods, preserves and homemade pasta as well as soaps and yarns.
Fall Lines Farms’ owner Molly Harris compares the weekly co-op to an orchestra. “It’s a lot of moving parts.” Each Thursday, food is distributed to 10 pick-up locations throughout Richmond. “It is very much a cooperative effort on their [farmers’] part.” They take turns delivering to the different locations, sharing responsibility for one another’s products.
First Congregational Christian United Church of Christ on Courthouse Road opted to become a pick-up location as a “caring for God’s creation” ministry project. Church volunteers sort and ready food orders before 3 p.m. and handle customer pick-ups from 3-6 p.m. each week.
Other pick-up spots are at retail locations, such as Gather on Mt. Hermon Road, which benefits from the increased traffic to the store.
Church volunteer Jan Hoyle places a weekly order online with Fall Line Farms for Virginia-grown food. “I was surprised at the variety of items,” she said. She expected mainly vegetables, and there are plenty of those, but her favorite items are chocolate-covered peanuts from Hubs Peanuts and pear butter from Bramble-Nut Orchard and Gardens.
“We have 30 to 35 customers picking up orders each week,” Hoyle confirms.
Eating local can cost more than buying from a chain grocer, but Hoyle finds the prices reasonable. “The peanuts are comparable to high-end brands in grocery stores, but these are much fresher.”
You are paying for the quality of food, Harris explains, not the fancy packaging and labeling.
Registration for Fall Line Farms is $65 for new customers and $35 for repeat customers and covers one season. The year is split into two buying seasons – summer is May 1 to Oct. 31, and winter is Nov. 1 to April 30. The registration fee helps offset administrative, logistical and marketing expenses.
CSA connects farmers and consumers. “It’s like buying a subscription,” notes Patricia Stansbury, proprietor of Epic Gardens in Bon Air. To join a CSA, you invest or buy shares at the beginning of the growing season. Farmers plan their crops based on demand. Every week during the season, the CSA buyers receive a box from that week’s harvest.
Epic Gardens began a CSA this year after repeated requests from its customers. Stansbury is no stranger to food co-ops, having toiled for three decades in the natural foods industry in Richmond. Many CSA members work a few hours per month at the farm – weeding, harvesting or bagging produce – to discount the fee by $72. A basic vegetable share costs $500 for 20 weeks. Egg shares are $60 for 12 dozen. Stansbury delivers weekly orders to the farmers’ markets at Byrd House and St. Stephen’s Church in Richmond.
“We get to make choices every day, and the more conscious we are in our choice-making, the better our own life will be, says Stansbury.”
Agriberry offers a CSA for its fresh fruit crops. It delivers weekly orders at the Huguenot & Robious Farmers’ Market on Thursdays. It’s all seasonal. One week may include a box with strawberries, raspberries, cherries or blueberries. Other weeks you may get peaches, plums, apricots, watermelons or cantaloupe – and sometimes they throw in asparagus, describes Colleen Geyer. Her mother started Agriberry on 10 acres in Hanover County, and her father runs a berry farm in Westmoreland County. The cost is $529 for 20 weeks, which equals $28.75 per week.
Four generations of the Goode family own and operate Chesterfield Berry Farm. Started in 1983, the farm is best known for its pumpkin and strawberry patches.
The Goodes grow 50 varieties of vegetables and fruits – from cabbage, corn and cantaloupe to beans, broccoli and of course, berries.
What they don’t grow, they try to buy locally, says Shannon Mangnuson, general retail manager for the berry farm’s market on Hull Street Road. “We deliver fresh to the market daily.”
They even buy their blueberries from their cousin’s farm, Swift Creek Berry Farm, owned by Kathy and Clyde Goode.
From mid-June to Aug. 1, the berry farm features its “crop of the week,” in which a seasonal vegetable is on sale at the market all week. “We demonstrate how to cook with it, supply recipes and show its nutritional value,” Mangnuson notes.
The berry farm and market is open from mid-March to December. It also sells its berries and other crops to local restaurants and wholesale buyers all over the East Coast.
Her uncle, Richard Goode, raises cows at the farm, which now supplies the market with local beef, including hamburger, steak and bratwurst.
“People know where their food is coming from and don’t have to worry about how long it’s been sitting on a shelf,” adds Mangnuson.
Each Thursday, the Huguenot & Robious Farmers’ Market, located at The Great Big Greenhouse, keeps growing. The same customers come back plus more, says Bonnie Pega, assistant manager at The Great Big Greenhouse. About 30 vendors attend each week from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. They display “Virginia Grown” banners around the market, denoting that all products are grown, raised or made in Virginia.
It’s not just food, either. Talented artisans sell natural soy wax candles, hand-spun and -dyed wool, pottery made from pressed leaves, jewelry, goats’ milk, glycerin herbal soaps, crocheted gifts and carved wooden bowls.
“These are people who are doing what our grandparents did and trying to make a living at it,” Pega remarks.
“If we didn’t have supplemental income, we wouldn’t be able to do this,” says Larry Nead, a vendor at the market and owner of Lar-Lyn Farms in Dillwyn.
Nead knew from a young age that he wanted to be a dairy farmer. Ironically, he discovered at age 12 that he was allergic to cow dander and hay, which ended his cattle-raising dreams. He and his wife moved to Virginia in 2005 and opened Lar-Lyn Farms, where they raise cattle and grow produce to sell at local farmers’ markets. “I had grown out of my allergies,” he quips.
Their neighbors, the Goins, own a cattle business. They currently raise 40 corn-fed cows and sell beef ribs, roasts and more in the booth right next to the Neads.
The Chester Village Farmers’ Market opened in 2008 at Chester Village Green. It runs May 1 to Oct. 31 on Saturdays from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Nicole Jordan, the “market master,” was motivated by residents who pushed to have an open-air market. Jordan ran holiday markets for several years that were well received. “I do it for the community,” she professes.
The market carries fresh fruits and vegetables, baked goods, eggs, honey, preserves, plants and handmade wares. Mickey Jett, from Jett’s Redi-Qwick Foods, has a unique Chicken Muttle stew that sells out quickly, notes Jordan.
The market is gaining momentum, and she hopes to expand its offerings to include local meat, seafood and cheese.