What's better than home-delivered pizza slapped in your hands in 30 minutes or less? Try a sack full of heirloom tomatoes, or beets shaped like carrots and bred for taste, not storage.
Thanks to an entrepreneurial spirit forged with a love of growing good things to eat, Dave Banga has stepped into convenience-oriented, community supported agriculture. If you live within the city limits of Durango or the Mancos area, he'll deliver the produce to your doorstep, 17 weeks in a row, for $550.
Bayfield, too, will get a taste of convenience, courtesy of Mike and Emily Jensen, owners and farmers of Homegrown Biodynamics. This is the Jensens' first year running a CSA, and the couple's fourth season farming. Mike, a geologist, traded in a full-time office job to farm exclusively about a year ago. Emily, a teacher who was educated as a geologist, will be doing the same in a matter of months. Most of the shares of their small, biodynamic CSA offering 20 weeks of vegetables for $500 have been filled. Durango shareholders will get produce dropped off "every Wednesday from mid-June to Halloween," Mike Jensen said.
"Mother nature makes the call."
He said biodynamic farming involves a closed-loop fertility cycle in which cattle eats the grass from the farm fields, and their waste products are used to fertilize crops.
"That's the way people farmed 500 years ago, before they could truck anything in," he said.
Like all CSAs, Jensen's model depends on people investing early, when seed money is needed to plant crops.
It's this pay now, eat later philosophy that gives farmers cash when they need it, so that fresh fruits and vegetables will be available at peak season for the investors.
Nature sets the delivery date, not someone halfway around the world charting produce-transportation schedules on a spreadsheet. It's a deal sealed in trust that calls for a little bit of consumer flexibility, patience and risk taking.
Local Community Supported Agriculture opportunities span a wide range of definition and application. Locals can choose a warm and fuzzy, rural- flavored, shared garden plot with shareholder benefits; or they can select a sophisticated subscription-based format with payment plans, drop-off schedules and dialed-up efforts to provide what the customer wants at a price dictated by principles of agricultural economics.
Some CSAs offer an educational model that invites participants to learn about sustainability first-hand by working in the field. Others, like Banga's and Jensens' home-delivered produce service, combine convenience with a mission to broaden awareness about varieties of vegetables that may not match the standardized look of grocery store produce.
The idea is not new; but talk to the half-dozen farmers in Southwest Colorado refining the art of providing locally grown produce. They'll tell you interest, if not demand, is up. Loyalty is apparent. Subscribers are showing increased levels of understanding how CSAs work.
Peter Reardon of Chimney Rock Farm and Market, the only USDA-certified organic farm in the region offering a family produce plan, boasts a "triple the national average return rate" of returning subscribers, customers who demonstrate satisfaction by signing on again. Because of the mobility of families and a culture quick to respond to changing life circumstances, membership can be a challenge, Reardon said, but he's brimming with optimism.
"We have a hotbed of awareness and appreciation of what we do," Reardon said of the 300 to 500 families in Southwest Colorado who take advantage of 17 weeks of fruit and vegetable deliveries for $425. Produce is dropped off in four locations from mid-June to October. Subscribers get a 10 percent discount when they shop in the farm market halfway between Bayfield and Pagosa Springs. Reardon said he's growing what the subscribers say they want, pointing to the passion for varieties of lettuce over turnips.
Banga's small-scale farm in Mancos, limited to 55 subscribers, uses no synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. His focus is on varieties that may be lesser known, but can be offered because shipping is an issue, he said. Twenty-six varieties of tomatoes are planted, including Black Prince and Striped Germans, heirloom varieties bred for taste and Southwest Colorado's short growing season.
Bob Kauer's Shared Harvest Community Garden is kicking off his eighth season with 60 households signed up and ready to grow. For $50 a season, members are expected to labor in the garden, help each other and share in expenses. During harvest, they take home what organic produce they need. Team leaders use a six-stage orientation and handbook to motivate beginning gardeners.
Every year, Kauer has a long "wait list" for this first come, first served, shared gardening model. Volunteers are generous with their time, but he said getting specialists on board, such as mechanics who are good at keeping power equipment up to speed, can be a challenge.
La Boca Center for Sustainability's inaugural CSA was easily filled, said Gabe Eggers, assistant director and garden manager. The 20-share, 18-consecutive week vegetable package will be dropped off each Saturday morning at the Durango Farmers Market. When available, wild-crafted or locally gleaned fruits - apples, cherries, apricots and peaches - will be added.
As is common with many CSAs, a newsletter featuring recipe ideas is included. Buy-in to the successes or failures inherent in farming is strongly emphasized, because the nonprofit teaches sustainable agriculture practices. LaBoca's CSA is just one component of a multi-faceted educational project to teach people how to farm in a challenging climate.
"We want to find out what works and let everyone else know, so they can see what works for them," Eggers said.
Locals can visit the 180-acre working site south of Ignacio to learn about agroecological and season-extending techniques, small-grains production, market gardening, animal husbandry, draft-horse farming and related topics.
Family farmers Tom and Sara Buscaglia are credited among their peers as farmers who have honed the science of family farming to an art. Now in their fifth season operating a CSA, Regional Agricultural Supply offers a $500, 17-week package with Saturday morning drop-off at the Durango Farmers Market.
"We make a living at what we love doing so much," Sara says of the family business, in which three of the four young, home-schooled Buscaglia children willingly join their parents in the field.
Each year, the vegetarian family moves closer to being entirely self-sustained on organic produce they grow, can and freeze, adding beans and rice to round out the protein in their diet, said Sara.
La Plata County Extension Office Program Coordinator Katy Pepinsky says selecting a CSA is all about "doing the research" to match up what the food producers have to offer with one's lifestyle and needs. Trying the produce and getting to know the farmer helps, she says.
"You are making a really big commitment. It helps to know what you want, to try the produce and to ask questions."