In Haywood County, North Carolina, you can find Stacey and John Michael Thompson tending to their three kids, small herd of fiber animals, and their gardens that grow the vegetables that feed families in their community.
The Thompson’s farm, Our Fiddlehead Farm, sits at an elevation of 3,000 feet, and is at the center of an innovative Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.
“We grow every green imaginable—spinach, kale, chicory, escarole, kohlrabi—you name it,” says Stacey. “We basically grow everything but potatoes, corn, and melons.”
For the Thompsons, farming is a part of their family’s legacy; both Stacey and John Michael helped out on their grandparents’ farms growing up, and they studied agriculture and animal science in college. “Farming has been woven in to our lives from the beginning,” says John Michael.
Our Fiddlehead Farm started their CSA program eight years ago, and within the last few years they have expanded the program to include other local farmers.
“We started having children and found it difficult to get to our Wednesday market and we needed to find a way to offload our product,” says Stacey.
Once a week, a customer in the CSA program picks up a box of produce and flowers from the Thompsons. In addition to vegetables and eggs from Our Fiddlehead Farm, a CSA box will include vegetables from Terry and Steve King of King Harvest Farm, flowers from Nikki Irving of Flourish Flower Farm, and as an add-on, grass-fed beef, chicken, eggs, and quail from Adam and Jada Henson of Shady Brook Farm.
CSAs are programs that create a link between producers and consumers through an alternative market where the CSA members share the risk of farming with the farmer, as well as supports fair wages and prices between the consumer and the farmer.
“In Japan, the Teikei model—which is a form of a CSA—was developed by a bunch of mothers who were struggling with food access, safety, and the urbanization of agricultural land, which are the same things we deal with here today,” says Stacey. “So in terms of creating food safety and access, we can assure our patrons through this model that they are getting a wholesome, organically grown product.”
Operating their CSA alongside their partners has created a new dynamic in the Thompsons’ lives. “We like to refer to our CSA group as our ‘farmily’ because in addition to the food, these collaborations have grown to be about fellowship,” says John Michael. “In working collaboratively with these farms over the last few years, we’re able to build each other up and give each other some help in risk management. Farming can feel really lonely—like it’s all on you to feed these families. But there’s something reassuring in knowing that we’re not in this alone. Our ‘farmily’ has grown to be an important part of our life and our farm.”
Katy Gould, director of the Haywood Community College Small Business Center, is also a member of the Our Fiddlehead Farm CSA. “We joined three years ago and it’s really changed a lot for my family, but it really connected us—and I think the community—with local farming and healthy food systems,” says Gould. “Farmers, too, are such historical figures in the economic development mix of our community and when you buy from local farmers, you’re supporting a family and your local economy.”
Our Fiddlehead Farm was a part of the NC Rural Center’s Rural Food Business Assistance Project, which was funded through the USDA Rural Business Development Grant. The Rural Food Business Assistance Project provides direct technical training to agribusinesses and builds regional networks to support local farmers, value-added processors, and food service businesses.