Nonprofit Feast Down East (FDE) has made quite a name for itself locally. Founded in 2006 by Leslie Hossfeld and Mac Legerton, it started as a means to combat massive poverty and unemployment in southeastern North Carolina.
FDE began getting more local produce on the market anyway they could, providing markets, grocery stores, restaurants, and chefs with harvests. Their initial push started a buy local movement that continues to flourish, bringing more people in to support the local economy. With a bonafide revolution underway, they’ve extended their efforts to include a venture called “Rent-a-Farmer.”
The only problem the organization ran into was fulfilling the specific desires of their new customers without inconveniencing them with going farm to farm to buy local fare. However, these problems may have been solved with their “Rent-a-Farmer” option, which is two-years strong. Veggie lovers can now sign up to receive all the fare and spices they desire—they can even receive free-range eggs.
Folks can subscribe monthly at $100 or by the season—eight to 10 weeks, depending on environmental conditions—at $225. Mother nature dictates their service availability. With spring turning to summer, now is prime-time. Once the southeastern heat sets in, many greens lose their luster. Locals who subscribe now can ensure they’re getting the crème de la crème.
Though it may sound like it, Rent-a-Farmer doesn’t entail renting a farmer. Running year-round, the simple, convenient and affordable program provides subscribers six to eight varieties of local foods a week. Each box carries a surprise batch of goodies. They can be retrieved from CSA pickup locations, such as: UNCW, Progressive Gardens, and others.
“I think this week the box will be filled with strawberries, kale, sweet potatoes, onions, cucumbers, tomatoes, and a variety of other fresh produce,” Molly Rousey, a director for FDE and founder of the first multi-farm CSA locally, details. “Whenever we can, we also like throwing in some different options like rainbow carrots, daikon French radish or some garlic chives just to provide a little variety. We are even offering to share recipes with those who aren’t quite as comfortable cooking the produce as they would like to be.”
Though the produce in one’s box can’t be customized, requests can be made to omit items that a client may be allergic to. Largely, the service aims to teach people how to eat with the season, an eating-habit that’s fallen to the wayside. It also allows people to sample items they may not have otherwise been exposed to. During slower months farm-made soaps or dishcloths find their way into boxes, supplementing produce that may not be in season.
As well, the program lifts the responsibility of finding somewhere to sell all of their fresh produce off the shoulders of farmers who don’t have time to transport their renderings, guaranteeing they can be sold for the full duration of the harvest.
“Processing and distribution is really what we are all about,” Rousey says. “We work with all of our specific farmers to help accommodate everything we need and gather it all together.”
As more people realize the benefits of shopping locally, impediments still remain. Supermarkets and grocery stores have been controlling the produce market for years, providing products from the cheapest options available. A lot of their fruits and the vegetables have traveled across the country, if not further, to reach stores. As well, most have been grown in large farms that cover more than 1,000 acres and use harsh chemicals to maximize crops yielded. With loose government regulations allowing such farms to call themselves “organic,” it is nearly impossible smaller, less-industrial land cultivators to compete.
“Another huge thing we want to do is to offer transparency,” Rousey says. “[We want to] let the shoppers know who grew their food and exactly where it came from.”
The farmers that provide for Rent-a-Farmer are known personally by the staff. The farms include, Black River Organic Farm, Cottle Organic Farm, Thomas Produce, Teachy Produce, Triple J Farm, Britt Farm, Newberry’s Blueberry’s, Roe Farm, MSC Organics, Shelton Herb Farm, Twisted Oak Farm, and Red Beard Farm. All participating farms come within a 75-mile radius of Wilmington.
“A lot of the family farms we work with have been doing this for nearly 200 years,” said Rousey. “They have the knowledge that has been passed down, and have all of the resources from what is around them.”
It isn’t just a way to make a living for all of these hard working farmers; these farmers have a passion for what they do.
“These people put their heart and souls into what they do, and we are all supporting that and becoming a part of it,” Rousey concludes. “It is an experience not just that you’re enjoying and helping support, but one that you are really diving into to help these amazing people.”