Reelfoot Grown to offer fresh fruit, vegetables

Reelfoot Grown to offer fresh fruit, vegetables

Posted: Wednesday, July 9, 2008 7:39 pm
By: Casey Curlin, Messenger intern

By CASEY CURLIN Messenger Intern Gilbert Parnell reaches down and turns over a melon to get a good look at all sides of it. “I don’t even like cantaloupe but I can’t wait for these to be ready. They’re so sweet, they’re just like candy,” he says. He moves on to check on the sugar baby melons growing out from under a sheet of black plastic. “I put the plastic down to keep the weeds out and it keeps me from having to spray chemicals on the plants.” The sun is beaming down on the small patch of melons as well as the rest of Parnell’s 24-acre farm where he grows tomatoes, okra, eggplants and purple hull peas. Small as it is, Parnell’s farm, Reelfoot Grown, near Reelfoot Lake, has the potential to feed more consumers and financially sustain Parnell and his family better than a larger farming operation. This is possible because Reelfoot Grown is an up and coming Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operation. CSA is a growing trend in small farming which allows farmers to grow fruits and vegetables directly for clientele who pay for the farmers’ products before they are grown. According to Parnell, CSA works by customers purchasing subscriptions in the form of shares from a farmer for fruits and vegetables before a crop is grown. When the crop is ready, the shareholder receives a box of fresh fruits and vegetables every week until the growing season is over. “It (CSA) is going to save the small farm and help feed people because the big farms can’t farm enough for everybody,” said Parnell. According to the Associated Press, CSA shares or subscriptions typically cost $500 to $600 in other areas of the country. Parnell plans to sell his shares for about $120 for a 20-pound box of fresh fruits and vegetables every week for six to eight weeks. Customers will also be able to purchase half shares to receive a 20-pound box every other week. CSA is beneficial to the farmer because it gives him the ability to know exactly how much to plant and eliminates the waste factor. It is beneficial to shareholders because they get fresh fruits and vegetables every week for about the same price as buying them from a supermarket, with the added bonus of knowing exactly where the food comes from and how it is grown. A downside to CSA is that the shareholder shares with the farmer the risk of the crop’s not turning out, but Parnell seems less concerned about this. “If you’re taking people’s money then you have to produce, and I’ve learned a lot out here to avoid that just by trial and error.” He says he also plans to refund subscriptions his first year if the crop does not produce. CSA programs can save gas by designating local drop-off sites which are convenient for the farmer and the customers. Parnell adds gas prices, in turn, are causing supermarket vegetable prices to rise because the produce has to be shipped from distant locations. In addition to CSA’s benefits of price and convenience, CSA is very popular for its health and taste advantages. “These are home-grown, field-ripened tomatoes, not regular field tomatoes, and that is the main difference between the two,” says Parnell. “I am so spoiled to the taste of my tomatoes that I can’t even eat store bought ones anymore.” Most CSA farms are certified organic, meaning they use no herbicides, pesticides or artificial fertilizer and they adopt other environmentally friendly processes. Although Parnell’s farm is not certified organic, he uses the same organic principles as a certified farm, such as covering plants with plastic to keep weeds out, so his subscribers will be able to have organic produce. CSA shareholders also have a reduced risk of receiving produce which is infected with salmonella. CSA produce has not been handled and passed through any packing facilities or distribution warehouses and is completely disconnected from any national salmonella outbreaks. Parnell currently sells his produce conventionally but plans to start advertising and getting subscribers for the 2009 growing season this summer and fall. He encourages shareholders to visit Reelfoot Grown and see for themselves how their investments are growing and voice opinions as to what is planted. “I want to sell to people who care how their food is grown and appreciate the better taste and flavor,” Parnell sys. Casey Curlin, a Fulton native, is a communications major at the University of Tennessee at Martin. Published in The Messenger 7.9.08

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