Vital Signs

Saving the Small Farm

St. Matthews Episcopal is a modern, manicured church set in the heart of suburban Louisville's East End. It contrasts somewhat with the dusty farm truck sitting in its parking lot.

Near the truck, half a dozen people say hello to a slender man in blue jeans and then mill around numerous apple crates filled with vegetables and melons. They chat among themselves and fill a bag with their share of produce. The amounts they can take are listed on cards attached to each crate: "8 large or 12 small" above the potatoes, "small handful" on the New Zealand spinach. It's 7:30 on a Thursday night in August, delivery time for Steve Smith's food guild.

Food guilds, subscription farming, community supported agriculture, or CSA—all are names for the kind of farming Steve does. A former market gardener who grew melons and tomatoes for stores and restaurants, Steve now sells a wide variety of vegetables, herbs, and some fruit directly to 79 families. His subscribers buy a share in a season's crop and pay their money up front in the early spring. From late April to mid- December they receive an average of a half-bushel of vegetables per week, all organically grown on Steve's farm in Bedford, Kentucky, about 40 minutes east of Louisville. Today his customers will take home cucumbers, a small watermelon, zucchini, potatoes, chard, corn, onions, basil, spinach, tomatoes, and either peppers or an...

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