CSA Strengthens Connections to Good Meat in 2020
A Look Inside Hickory Nut Gap’s CSA Membership Program
By Meredith Leigh
It’s the height of summer, and the grass is long here at Hickory Nut Gap Farm. What the animals don’t graze and convert into 100% grass fed meat is beginning to slowly store its fiber and will provide food for the animals in winter. Usually our season is right on pace with the grass, and just about now we would be watching the corn maze stretch above our heads and getting ready for our fall harvest festival…
But 2020 continues to be different, doesn’t it? While COVID and social unrest can’t stop the grass from growing (thankfully!), our normal avenues of connecting with our community have been interrupted, like the farm tours that peak in the summer and fall, and the familiar exchanges with our customers at our retail market and butchery.
In this year of social distancing, connection has felt disjointed for most people, families, and businesses. These obvious changes to our normal interactions with the community might seem tremendous, but what’s amazing is that we continue to feel deep connections to our land, our animals, and our customers. In many ways, the adaptations we’ve had to develop quickly in the face of COVID have highlighted that almost nothing can change the positive model of caring for people, land and happy animals as the best avenue toward creating great tasting, healthier meat products.
This year alone, our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program has grown from 150 people to over 400, an astounding testimony to our community’s investment in better food and local farms. Our season-long relationship with these 400 families has been a powerful connection point for Hickory Nut Gap as the world continues to move in unpredictable ways. Recent conversations with some of our members have been invaluable in understanding how our connections to our work and our products endure.
One member, Katie Kelley, says she was considering eliminating pork from her diet, but when she made the connection to HNG’s CSA, she was able to trust the source of the meat she’s consuming.
She also said, “My husband keeps telling people how well we’ve eaten during the pandemic, even when meat was hard to find in the grocery stores.”
From a survey of CSA customers, quality of meat was one of the top reasons for participating in the program, along with reasonable price and desire to support local farms. Customer Rachel Stein stated that within a month of participating, she knew she would never go back to sourcing meat from other channels, and that not only does the meat taste better, but she also feels better about the way the animals live.
It has been richly rewarding to know that the deep connections we’ve stewarded with our land and animals during the pandemic continues to translate into high quality products. We are currently adding capacity to our local membership program as well as developing our retail shipping program.
About the Author
Over the past 20 years, Meredith has worked as a farmer, butcher, chef, teacher, non-profit executive director, and writer, all in pursuit of good food. She is the author of The Ethical Meat Handbook: A Complete Guide to Home Butchery, Charcuterie, and Cooking for the Conscious Omnivore, and Pure Charcuterie: The Craft & Poetry of Curing Meats at Home. Meredith travels teaching charcuterie and food production and processing, consulting for farmer and food businesses, editing, and providing marketing assistance for values-driven business. She lives with her partner and four children in Asheville, NC. Learn more about Meredith Leigh.