Chat about the Rolling Prairie Farmers Alliance

May 11, 2007

This chat has already taken place. Read the transcript below.

Stu Shafer, owner of the Sandheron Farm and a member of the Rolling Prairie Farmers Alliance, will join us for an online chat at 2 p.m. Friday to talk about the produce subscription service's 14th season, which opened this week.

Moderator:

Hi, this is 6News reporter Laura McHugh. Stu's here so let's get started.

Moderator:

For people who aren't familiar with Rolling Prairie, can you give us a quick rundown of how it works?

Stu Shafer:

Rolling Prairie is a kind of "Community Supported Agriculture" or CSA that works as a subscription service. Customers subscribe to a bag of vegetables and fruits that are grown by the member growers of Rolling Prairie, and we bring them their produce each week.

Stu Shafer:

We deliver to four locations in the area, two in Lawrence and two in Kansas City. In Lawrence, our subscribers pick up a regular size bag (feeds a household of 4 or more) at the Community Mercantile on Mondays, and the "economy bag" for smaller households at Local Burger on Thursdays.

justthefacts:

Is it too late to sign up for the $15 (per week) sacks of fresh produce I saw being featured last night on Channel 6?

Stu Shafer:

Right now we are putting people on a waiting list, because our early production was hurt by the late frost and by the recent heavy rains. But we are hoping to add people from the waiting list real soon. Keep an eye on our website, http://rollingprairie.net, where you can find a form to send in to get on the list.

Moderator:

You mentioned the recent weather events. How do you think the late freeze and recent rains will impact your growing season?

Stu Shafer:

The freeze definitely hurt fruit production, so that is going to be in limited supply this year compared to other years. The strawberries are coming back a little, but we won't have as many. Summer raspberries will be hurt, and definitely the tree fruits like pears and apples may not be available around here at all. But vegetables that are being planted right now should do really well, given ample moisture. Of course, that's assuming we don't have any more floods!

corban:

Yesterday I read an article in the New York Times about the new Farm Bill and its effect on farmers' markets, as food stamp users will be able to apply their credits to grocery store produce to a greater extent. How will this bill affect your operations?

Also, for those of you who hold jobs aside from farming, how did you become farmers, and are there any books you might recommend for aspiring farmers?
We love your service!

Stu Shafer:

The farm bill is coming up at an interesting time, with a lot of potential changes. Sustainable agriculture groups are working really hard to build in more programs that will help support the local foods and organic movements, so any input to our legislators on those issues can be really helpful. We will have an article in next week's Rolling Prairie newsletter on the farm bill, so I will try to get that posted to our website. I know that Oxfam is working on the issue, and I'm sure their website will be easy to Google.

Stu Shafer:

Most of the Rolling Prairie farmers have outside jobs, and we all know how difficult it is to get into farming. One program in this area to help new people get into farming is Growing Growers, which is an apprentice training program through cooperation between KSU and U of Missouri, as well as some area food groups like Kansas City Food Circle. I have had a number of apprentices work at my farm, as have several other Rolling Prairie farmers. I believe their website is growinggrowers.org, but I will double check that. I would also look for books by Joel Salatin and Jon Shepard, as well as Elliot Coleman, for ideas about getting started.

Stu Shafer:

Make sure you put the www in the growing growers web address: http://www.growinggrowers.org .

marxisnotdead:

There has been a lot of criticism among some circles in Lawrence that the Alliance
a) attempts to keep new farmers with new products out of the Alliance for protectionist reasons, b) that some in the Alliance's production is low or non-existent promoting additions of a) and c) that the close alliance with Nagengast is funneling money from grants into a core circle of friends within the Alliance and that new farmers who need a helping hand get nothing. What is your comment on these discussion points?

Stu Shafer:

Rolling Prairie Farmers Alliance is a cooperative of growers, and there are good reasons for maintaining a high standard among the growers. Dan Nagengast was instrumental in bringing the CSA idea to this area and was one of the founding growers. He is no longer a grower in Rolling Prairie, but continues to work on a wide range of projects that support and promote sustainable agriculture and food security through the Kansas Rural Center.

Stu Shafer:

I myself was invited to apply to become a member grower in Rolling Prairie about seven years ago, and went through an application and interview process to ensure that we were mutually compatible. I started out small, but have expanded my production over the years, as have other growers.

As to the idea of protectionism, I'm not sure what you mean. On the one hand we want to keep our own standards high, but on the other we in no way want to keep other growers from entering the field, setting up their own ways of marketing, whether that be CSAs or whatever. In fact, we often assist people with getting started. There is lots of demand and growing demand for local food, as evidenced by the fact that we have a waiting list, so there is plenty of room for more people to grow food locally and sustainably!

bluerose:

i was a very happy subscriber for several years, but took off last year, thinking to grow my own garden. again, this year i did not sign up, thinking to grow my own garden. well, i am finding out ... GARDENING IS HARD!!

so ... is it too late to sign up for this year?

Stu Shafer:

Again, it is not too late to get on the waiting list and have a good chance of getting in over the next few weeks. It's always a good idea to get your form and deposit in early in the Spring, and the form is always available on our website. If you want to be on our mailing list to receive a paper brochure next Spring, drop me an email (check the website for the address) and let me know if you are interested in the regular or economy bag. Meanwhile, we are always discussing ways to build some flexibility in the membership group, including having smaller numbers of subscribers start a couple of weeks early and/or keep going a couple of weeks later (even up to the end of November last year).

Moderator:

That was our last question. Anything you want to add, Stu?

Stu Shafer:

I would just say, if you can't grow your own food or can't grow as much as you want, buy from your local farmers and help rebuild a sustainable food system!

Moderator:

Thanks for joining us today. Good luck with your 14th Season.

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