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Archive for Monday, May 27, 2002

to organic produce

May 27, 2002

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If they had the time, many people would love to grow their own fruits and vegetables. But time is often scarce as snowflakes in August.

That desire for fresh, homegrown produce has created a local marketing niche that has been filled by a group of Lawrence area organic farmers.

Now in its ninth season, the Rolling Prairie Farmers Alliance is the nation's oldest cooperative vegetable subscription service, said Dan Nagengast, a group spokesman.

"The idea has been around for a while," he said. But this is the first group of farmers to do this as a group."

The nine-farmer cooperative distributes organically grown, picked-that-morning fruits and vegetables twice a week at Community Mercantile, Ninth and Iowa streets.

To join, new subscribers pay an initial $50 fee, after which they pay $12.50 a week for a big bag of produce, $8.50 for a smaller bag.

Big-bag subscribers pick out their produce on Mondays, small-bag subscribers on Thursdays.

For accounting purposes, the Rolling Prairie produce is kept separate from The Merc's.

"We are happy to have them," said Jeanie Wells, general manager at The Merc. "It's great. It's like you get to take advantage of somebody else's fabulous garden, but you don't have to do the work."

About 200 of Rolling Prairie's 350 customers live in or around Lawrence, said Nagengast, a spokesman for the group.

Rolling Prairie also has distribution sites in Shawnee Mission and Kansas City, Kan.

"Over half the (farmers) are 'certified organic;' two are too small to get certified, and a couple are too hard-headed to go through the certification process," Nagengast said, laughing. "But we all use the same practices  lots of compost, no pesticides."

All nine farms are in northeast Kansas: five in Jefferson County, two in Douglas County, one in Franklin County and one in Leavenworth County.

Because the produce is all Kansas-grown, selection is limited to what's in season.

"Early on  now, for example  it's beets, radishes, turnips, spinach and the lettuces: red tip, green tip, buttercrunch and the romaines," Nagengast said. "Later on it'll be carrots, summer squash, tomatoes, corn on the cob. It's whatever is ready to pick."

Subscribers also have access to jars of homemade salsa and tomato sauce.

Subscriptions last about 22 to 25 weeks a year, depending on weather conditions.

Rolling Prairie enrollment forms are available at The Merc or at this Web site: http://home.earthlink. net/~sandheron/sites.htm.

For more information, call Paul Johnson, 597-5858, or Stu Shafer, 597-5510.

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