Restaurants and Organic Farms Partner for New CSA Program

Sourcing locally, and knowing whom and where products and services come from is becoming more important

March 21--Product of Chile.

Grown in California.

Product of Mexico.

The source of our food is often foreign to us, except for a few words on a tiny sticker or a sign at the grocery store.

Community Supported Agriculture, on the other hand, are a few words that, together, mean we know where our food came from. We might know the farmer, and we might have even been to the farm once or twice.

Whether it's food, or craft beer, or paper shredding services, sourcing locally and knowing who and where her products and services come from is important to Chris Dilla.

It's one of the reasons that the Bocktown Beer and Grill owner has teamed up with Conover Organic Farm in Burgettstown to offer fresh, local ingredients at her restaurants, and a CSA program to the communities around them.

A CSA, as farm owner Jeff Conover explains it, is like buying a little piece of a farm.

CSA members, or friends as Conover and his family call them, sign up and pre-pay during early spring, in exchange for a weekly delivery of fresh produce and other products throughout the rest of spring, summer and fall. A full "share" feeds a family of four or more and costs $550, and a partial share feeds two people and costs $300.

The program offers members the benefits of locally grown and organic produce, and also helps to support the farmer and agriculture, Conover said.

"It really helps us because now is when you've gotta buy all of your seeds, all of your equipment maintenance, all of those kinds of things happen in the spring," Conover said of farming.

The fruits and vegetables members get in their CSA boxes changes over time, with things like lettuce and peas early on, and melons, berries, corn and squashes appearing as the 23-week season progresses.

When it's ripe, they pick it, and you get it.

"This is eating the way our grandparents did," Conover said.

"Back when I was a kid ... when you went to the grocery store it was impossible to get a strawberry any time other than June," Conover added. "This is a recent phenomenon where you get fruits from all over the world at different times of year."

In Conover's family, it's the way every generation has eaten since they began farming in this country in 1624. Conover started his career as a corporate executive but traded in his white collar in 2011, when he and his wife, Diana, a third-generation beekeeper, bought their farm.

Organic farming comes with many challenges and a lot more work, but it's how Conover and his family chose to eat and cultivate their crops.

"I just thought if that's how I like to eat, I just hope there's other people who like to eat that (way) as well," Conover said.

Dilla has been searching for a local, organic produce supplier for her restaurants since before opening Bocktown Monaca -- the original location is Bocktown Robinson -- in 2011. The benefits of working with Conover go beyond the menus, however.

"For me it's not just the local food or the local produce, it's just about doing good business with your neighbor; it's keeping your money in the community, ... keeping tax dollars turning around in our local communities," Dilla said, noting that she's even currently looking for a local business to handle document shredding.

"Those people become our customers and we become their customers," she said.

While there are many other organic farms and CSA programs in the area, Dilla said, Conover's was a good fit because he could deliver to both restaurants, in Center and North Fayette townships.

The CSA allows Dilla to order commercially and fresh, direct from the grower, because it makes it worth the trip for Conover.

Members can choose to pick up their weekly boxes at either Bocktown, or at a few other locations in Conover's program. Throughout the season, members also get first pick of other products, such as salsas, cheeses and honey, and opportunities to participate in special events and visits to the farm.

To kick off the CSA program, Dilla will host a meet-and-greet with Jeff and Diana Conover from 6 to 8 p.m. April 4 at Bocktown Monaca. The public will have the opportunity to learn about the farm and the CSA, as well as place an order and enter a raffle.

"I'm excited about the whole entire thing," Dilla said of the new partnership. "I'm hoping that this is a long-term relationship."

Copyright 2014 - Beaver County Times, Pa.