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Bountiful harvest for sale in Pa.

February 27, 1997

By RICHARD F. BELISLE

Staff Writer

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - They are the sharecroppers of the 1990s, but instead of forking over dirt they fork over $490 for enough fresh vegetables to feed a family of four for 35 weeks.

It's called community-supported agriculture and it's a growing movement around the country, say proponents like Steve Moore, who heads the Center for Sustainable Living at Wilson College in Chambersburg.

Under the program, farmers grow vegetables for a predetermined number of subscribers who pay for their "shares" at the beginning of the growing season.

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Supporters say it works like this: Subscriber and farmer become partners in the venture. The farmer does the work, while the subscribers assume some of the risk in the event of crop failure due to bad weather. The program also allows farmers to buy seeds and supplies without having to borrow money from banks.

Last year, gardeners at Wilson College supplied vegetables for 65 area families from a 5-acre patch on the college's 104-acre farm. Some of the veggies got a head start in a solar greenhouse and all were helped from a mountain of composted horse manure from the college's equestrian center.

This year Moore hopes to sign up 100 subscribers. A full subscription costs $490. A half share costs $245.

"The biggest complaint . . . is that there's too much food," Moore said.

He said the 1996 harvest was so successful, "even in a rural county like Franklin where many folks have their own gardens," that many subscribers who signed up again for the 1997 growing season are taking only half shares.

"The real emphasis in the partnership goes beyond vegetables," Moore said. "We're making a statement that we need to look at the cost to the environment and to society."

He said modern farming methods, with the liberal use of pesticides, ruin soil and ground water and are energy intensive.

Tudor Hall Farm owner Bill Grantham of Middleway, W.Va., said he tried subscription farming for two years and dropped it.

"The money is good, but we could not always guarantee what we were going to have for our customers," he said.

He said he had about 35 customers.

For information on subscriptions to the Center for Sustainable Living at Wilson College, call Carol Moore at 1-717-264-4141 ext. 3247.

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