‘‘We’d like to get an egg a day out of everybody,” says Kathryn Bertoni. “ That would be a 100 percent lay rate.”
From happy hens to their hands: Cathryn and Michael Bertoni offer their CSA subscribers egg shares from their free-range flock.
After six years of operating Appalachia Star Farm, which offers “egg shares” as an add-on to its 22-week Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) produce subscription, she and her husband, Michael, are still in the process of establishing their foundation flock of laying hens up to full production. The ladies, a mix of breeds that produce a rainbow of colorful eggs from deep orange to beige to blue, graze in an enclosed pen until they devour that particular section of pasture. After that, they are transported along with their mobile coop to another place on the farm. Until moving day (every week or two), the hens munch bugs, and poop and bask in the sunshine while the Bertonis’ gentle giant, a Maremma guard dog named Lochsa, keeps them safe.
This year Appalachia Star’s 2009 season CSA subscribers were able to add a whole share (one dozen per week) or half a share (a dozen every other week) to their vegetable boxes for an additional fee. Some also added a full- or half-share of aged, raw-milk cheese from Mountain View Farm in Rockbridge County. For 2010, Kathryn says she’s pursuing a possible “mushroom share” sourced from fungus farmer and forager Mark Jones of Sharondale Farm in Cismont. All of these additions to the typical CSA vegetable share are an effort to give subscribers a well-balanced box of fresh and local fare. The more variety and the more food bases covered, the more likely subscribers will be content to stay out of the grocery store and support their local producers.
The Bertonis already grow 40 different produce crops to keep their CSA people interested. This year, a group of 45 (a sold-out subscription) paid $357 (not including sales tax and a $20 delivery fee for egg or cheese add-ons) to pick up a week’s worth of vegetables for two people from the drop-off site at Albemarle Baking Company every Monday mid-May through mid-October. Some of the group opted to pay a discounted rate of $325 in exchange for giving the Bertonis a few hours farm labor. “About half of our subscribers opted to work four hours, while the rest paid extra,” says Bertoni.
Getting to work at the Bertonis idyllic family farm alongside them, Lochsa and their two little boys is actually part of the appeal of subscribing to Appalachia Star. Their program is so popular that a waitlist is already in process for the 2010 season. Though Appalachia also sells through three different farmers markets—Lexington on Wednesdays and Charlottesville and Nellysford on Saturdays—as well as from their own self-serve farm stand, their CSA program undoubtedly is their biggest baby, or at least their most time-consuming project. While many local farms are decreasing their CSA programs and one CSA operation has closed down entirely recently—Best of What’s Around, a predominantly CSA-supported farm on land owned by Dave Matthews in Scottsville—the Bertonis’ relatively small, five-acre-fueled CSA business has been growing. The unfortunate fact is that many small local farms find keeping up with the diversity of crops needed to provide a week’s worth of produce in each CSA box becomes unmanageable, not to mention financially difficult and they focus instead on growing a lot of a few types of crops for wholesale. But the egg, cheese and mushroom shares are just one indication that the Bertonis are committed to making their CSA program thrive.
Chocolate Soufflé Cake
From Brian Helleberg, owner and executive chef of Fleurie and Petit Pois
650 g chocolate
7/8 lb. butter
400 g sugar
20 eggs, separated
Melt chocolate and butter over water bath. Whisk sugar and yolks together until pale and fluffy. Whisk whites into soft peaks. Fold yolks into chocolate mixture and then fold whites into chocolate mixture. Evenly coat bottom and sides of 12 eight-ounce ramekins with butter and then coat with sugar. Ensure top rim is cleaned of any coating. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Bake at 425 degrees for 12 minutes. Dust with powdered sugar and serve immediately. Serves 12
GET THIS (left): You could use a fork, but that’s no fun. Beat those eggs silly with a good wire whisk. $19.95 from The Seasonal Cook.
What we learned from Dr. Seuss: Never turn down a dish you haven’t tried—not in box and not with a fox, not in a boat and not with a goat.
Back to FOOD & DRINK ANNUAL 2009