Local CSA growing

Published 8:01 am Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Community Editor

YEATESVILLE — The community spoke, and local produce farmer Tom Van Staalduinen listened.
Now, Beaufort County has its own community-supported agriculture program.
CSAs are alternative farming systems used primarily in urban communities.
In essence, they are designed to help produce farmers maintain their seasonal farming operations and provide consumers with the freshest of fruits and vegetables at a reasonable price.
Consumers interested in becoming members of a CSA program must pay for a share of the farm’s crop in advance of the growing season.
Van Staalduinen is running a seasonal CSA program through his family’s produce business, Petals &Produce. The program, which starts its second summer season May 19, is growing fast.
The program had 36 participants last season. This year, 63 people have already signed up. Van Staalduinen is still taking orders, but said he can handle no more than 75 participants.
Before starting the program, Van Staalduinen said he had his doubts that it would work in rural Beaufort County. So much for that.
“I, at first, poo-pooed the idea,” he said.
But a former employee, Candace Williams, insisted that he look into it.
“She put my foot to the fire,” he said.
So, at her discretion, Van Staalduinen sat down with members of Green Drinks, a loose-knit environmental group that meets to talk over drinks once a month. After hearing them out, he agreed to start a program, given at least 15 people signed up for the first season. Imagine his surprise when 36 people signed up.
Now in his second season, Van Staalduinen is worried he might have to turn customers away.
“It’s basically been word of mouth,” Van Staalduinen’s wife, Heather, said about the program’s growing popularity.
Petals &Produce’s CSA program lasts 15 weeks and costs $235, which breaks down to $15 a week, with a $10 handling fee.
Each week, Tom Van Staalduinen enlists the help of his family and employees in filling up baskets with fresh produce for every program participant. The baskets are a half-bushel each, and feed an average family of four.
A basket of the same size usually retails for about $18 to $20, according to Tom Van Staalduinen.
“They basically get a 20- to 30-percent discount,” he said.
Program participants will be able to pick up their baskets from one of two Petals &Produce locations in Washington or Yeatesville, every Wednesday and Thursday throughout the season.
Baskets that aren’t picked up are donated to Eagle’s Wings food pantry.
Most of the produce in each basket is grown by Tom Van Staalduinen, and his father Bill, including: tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, broccoli, cabbage, eggplant, peppers, okra, carrots, radishes, lettuce, zucchini, Swiss chard and red potatoes.
“I stick with the things I’m good at,” Tom Van Staalduinen said.
Some produce is provided by fellow eastern North Carolina farmers, including: green beans, butter beans, garden (May) peas, blueberries, onions from Mattamuskeet, strawberries from Southside Farms and blackberries, cantaloupe and watermelon from Rocky Hock. Baskets have also included local bread and flowers.
Tom Van Staalduinen said he’s always open to different suggestions. This is why he gives participants a survey at the end of the season asking for their opinions on the portions and variety of produce provided, among other things.
“There are different things we learn each year,” he said.
The program has picked up business for Petals &Produce, especially at its Washington location on John Small Avenue, according to Tom Van Staalduinen. But, he doesn’t like to measure the program’s success by sales.
“Success is getting good comments at the end of the season,” he said. “A happy customer is a repeat customer.”
For more information or to sign up for the CSA program, call Petals &Produce at its Washington location, 940-0012, or its Yeatesville location, 943-3116. Both stores are open from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.