Amanda Austin and Dan Moon want Cardo's Farm Project to be more that a successful sprout wholesaler for Denton County businesses.
They want the Ponder organic farm to get more of its produce onto your plate - rich greens, zesty peppers, golden beets, plump eggplants and cool, minty basil.
And that's not even the half of what Austin, the farm project manager, and Moon, the farm manager, have coaxed out of the stubborn dirt in a record-busting summer heat wave.
They couldn't do it without the ready commitment of local businesses.
"I think it took doing Vegetable Fest for me to see the potential," Austin said, referring to a summer event that celebrated sustainable farming, community industry and local music. "I was like, 'Oh my God. People want to support us.' All you have to do is ask.
Cardo's Farm has supplied sprouts in bulk to local businesses for years. Jupiter House Coffee in Denton buys wheatgrass from the farm, as does Denton Juice Co.
The Cupboard Natural Foods carries Cardo's sunflower greens, and Hannah's Off the Square, a downtown restaurant, regularly works Cardo's produce into its eclectic menu.
Two new business partnerships will help Cardo's transition into a new model of farming: community-supported agriculture. That's a fancy name for a movement that helps shoppers skip the chain grocery store produce in favor of crops from farms using sustainable, often organic practices.
Dan's Silverleaf is an unlikely partner. It's a downtown bar and music venue, but Wildwood Inn chef Pam Chittenden said there was room for the business to help out.
"Well, we've always been interested in the [food] co-op and always been interested in the community," said Chittenden, who creates the menus and dishes of Wildwood Inn, a local bed and breakfast. Chittenden used to cook for the Elm Street location of Dan's Bar, a bar and venue co-owned and run by her boyfriend, Dan Mojica. CS WHAT?
Cardo's Farm Project is one of a growing number of community-supported agriculture (CSA) farms. As interest in locally and organically grown food has spiked, small farms have embraced the CSA model to bring consumer and farm together. Individuals, families and - in some cases - businesses buy "shares" of a local farm's yield.In a nutshell: People purchase a share from a local farm, and in return, they get a weekly parcel of the farm's harvest throughout the harvest season. The idea borrows from food cooperatives, which divide fresh food among members. In community-supported agriculture, growers have an investment from their community and can expand their harvest, and consumers get fresh, healthful food grown nearby. Some, though not all, farms require CSA members to contribute a certain amount of work as part of their support. CSA members share in the benefits as well as the risks, which can include a poor harvest season. HOW YOU CAN BUY PRODUCE
Shop for fresh produce grown pesticide-free and with drip irrigation from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Saturday through Halloween. Beginning in November, shoppers on the Square should make a trip just past the Chestnut Tree Garden Tea Room on the downtown Denton Square, where volunteers from Cardo's have an open invitation to set up a produce table any day of the week. FARM MEMBERSHIPS
Cardo's Farm Project is launching community-supported agriculture memberships in the fall. Members will get a weekly share of the harvest for 10 weeks.• Barter share: Barter members work two hours a week for their weekly parcel of food. Barter share memberships are at capacity.• Working share: Working-share members work on the farm an hour a week and pay $75. Working share memberships are at capacity.• Basic shares: Members pay $150 for a weekly parcel of food. Basic memberships are available.To purchase a basic membership or learn more about future barter or working memberships, e-mail Amanda Austin at firstname.lastname@example.org .
"We figured that the bar is a gathering spot for people who want to pick up their weekly share of food, and maybe sell a few beers," she said. "We really want to support these kids. They are really doing a good job."
Chittenden has been doing business with the farm as a chef recently, since the creation of her wasabi Cobb salad. The dish involves a chicken salad with Cardo's sprouts on top.
When the fall harvest begins, farm volunteers will bring food parcels to Dan's Silverleaf, where they'll be stored in the bar office - a clean, cool space where the fresh produce will keep just fine.
"That's one of the bad things about being in a co-op," Chittenden said. "Everyone works, which means people will put the food on their porch, and if you can't get out there and pick it up right away, it sits there and gets wilted."
Though the details aren't final, Chittenden said the Cardo's members will probably be able to pick up their parcels between 5 and 8 p.m. on the designated delivery day when fall distribution begins.
Austin said Dan's Silverleaf could likely bring more Denton residents into the farm's circle.
"Yes, we're in Ponder and it's not that far away, but having a distribution point in downtown Denton? That's the coolest," she said. "Obviously, people will still be able to come out to the farm, but more options are a good thing."
Moon said Cardo's is an educational model of sustainable farming.
You can't have that model without partnerships, both volunteer and commercial.
The partnerships with local businesses yield cash and information, but information is also a vital currency on educational farms.
"The bottom line is that if we want to sell more produce, we have to grow more food, and that means we need their input on what they want to buy," he said.
Suzanne Millet has been the chef at the Chestnut Tree Garden Tea Room for a little over a year, and said the downtown business has been buying produce from Cardo's since last winter.
"We buy from Cardo's every week," she said. "I buy sunflower greens that we use in our mixed green salad. My kitchen ladies use their eggs every week, and if you've never had a farm-fresh egg, you're missing out. There is no comparison, and Cardo's eggs are delicious. We buy their okra sometimes. Depending on their season, I've used their Swiss chard and their rainbow chard. Chard tends to be bitter, so you have to cook it in way to neutralize that a little bit."
Cardo's Farm recently ended a successful Kickstarter.com fundraiser. The farm raised $15,572, which will fund physical growth of the farm itself and support educational programs at the farm.
Millet said Cardo's Farm is campaigning its community at the right moment.
"Food has become so mass-produced, and everyone has been so afraid to venture out and support small farms. But that's really been changing, and I like supporting local businesses," Millet said. "Look, it seems smarter to me to consume food this way when you can. You aren't going to cart something over thousands of miles, which is also time when food is losing its nutrients and its flavor. You aren't spending money on fuel. You're conserving water. It just makes sense."
It makes a difference on the tongue, too, the chefs said.
"The fact they are not using pesticides does make a difference," Millet said. "You can taste it. You can go to the farmers market and get a tomato that has just been picked a few days ago, and you bite into it and you can taste everything in it that you lose when you ship a tomato to a grocery store."
"It's huge," she said. "Just a huge difference. Just pulling a radish out of the ground - we have a garden at home, when it's not hot like this - and you can pull a breakfast radish out of the ground and bite into it and it's full of flavor. Full of it.
"The sweetness starts to dissolve and the sugars start breaking down and the taste starts changing right away once you pick it. You lose more when you ship it across the country. Or an ocean. There's a reason chefs are hard-core about fresh ingredients."
So far, Millet said she's impatient for the first crop of Cardo's squash, and the buttery, earthy flavor it promises.
"They've given us a calendar for when they expect to harvest their crops," Millet said. "I plan my specials maybe a month out, so I'll probably wait to plan some dishes after I know what Amanda and Dan will be bringing us."
Austin and Moon said they've lost some crops during the summer's record-breaking heat. But peppers have basked in the warmth, okra plants have bloomed like plants possessed and their entire chard crop has weathered the drought with incredible pluck - rainbow chard stems are vibrant and the leaves are unabashedly green.
They're working on spinach, winter squash, salad beets and arugula. If their methods and the weather are successful, they'll harvest some cilantro and onions.
In the meantime, they're preparing broiler chickens and keeping their egg-laying hens happy and productive.
They recently started cultivating bees with donated boxes, and two cows munch from the pasture.
Their hopes are high for 2012. With support from home cooks, local chefs and volunteers, they could be in for a dramatic bump in production.
"What impressed me so much about the business people in Denton is that they're supporting the idea of creating a space to test out this model of a small farm in Denton," Austin said. "I'm pumped about it."
Moon said success at Cardo's could mean more sustainable farming in the county.
"If this works, it means other people can do it, too," he said. "If this works, it means that the farm can support two employees - me and Amanda - and harvest more food. I think it's really promising."
Fore more information about Cardo's Farm Project, visit www.cardosfarmproject.com.
The farm, located at 178 Seaborn Road in Ponder, welcomes visitors, but asks that people call to arrange a visit by calling 817-371-2278.
LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877. Her e-mail address is email@example.com .