- The Washington Times - Friday, July 7, 2000

Amid the chaos of evening traffic, a group of young, urban professionals gathers near Dupont Circle ready to obtain their weekly organic vegetable fix in the District of Columbia.

Only they aren't stopping at a grocery store or a farmer's market. They gather at 16th and P streets NW to find Leigh Hauter's Ford pickup the one with mountains of fresh vegetables inside.

Mr. Hauter, who owns Bull Run Mountain Organic Farm, delivers fresh vegetables each week to about 200 shareholders (350 individuals and families).

"This system is perfect," said customer Jason Fizell, who works in Dupont Circle at the Center for Environmental Citizenship.

"I walk two blocks from work to get fresh vegetables that are in season. That's the way it should be."

This shows the high demand for vegetable-subscription services, said Jill Auburn, national director of Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education.

"It is innovative marketing," she said.

"Farmers get to have a relationship with the people who buy their produce. Add to that the convenience of delivery and that's why there has been such a high growth rate in this area."

Mrs. Auburn estimates there are 800 to 1,000 community-supported agriculture (CSA) farms across the country, including at least a dozen in the District, Virginia and Maryland area.

One such farm in Montgomery County (Md.), Planet Veg in Montgomery Village, is owned and operated by Karen Cannon.

On three-fourths of an acre, Miss Cannon farms intensively, making deliveries to her customers in Chevy Chase, Bethesda and Silver Spring 25 weeks a year. Most of her customers pay in advance at $25 per box per week.

Formerly a technical editor and art director, Miss Cannon has been farming for five years. She still free-lances to make ends meet, but growing vegetables is what she loves.

While fresh, organic vegetables are important, it is relations with her customers that make it worthwhile, Miss Cannon said.

"Most farms are way out in the country," she said.

"People in Chevy Chase aren't going to come out to my farm. Their options are limited. But if I come to them, there are more people interested in my service than I can provide for."

Mr. Hauter agrees with Miss Cannon. His current number of shareholders represent a self-imposed limit, as his 3-acre farm cannot provide much more than its current supply.

His customers pay $250 per share for one person, $310 for two, or $620 for a family of four. This covers 20 weeks of fresh veggies.

Mr. Hauter makes three regular weekly deliveries the East Falls Church Metro stop, 16th and P streets near Dupont Circle and Third and D streets SE.

He gave up teaching English at George Mason University four years ago to work his wife's newly inherited farm. Between his wife's public interest work and the money he makes from the farm, Mr. Hauter can afford to take off four months a year to travel and write.

His program forces vegetable subscribers to cook vegetables that are fresh for the week, not those in high demand.

"The program inspires cooking," said Fred Dews, who regularly reads the recipes Mr. Hauter makes available on his World Wide Web site.

Thoughts of a cooking extravaganza dance in Mr. Dews' head as he leaves for home to prepare fresh salad greens, garlic, several herbs and a sunflower for dinner.

Sasha Rodriguez and Justin Torres, two students from the State University of New York at Purchase, are working on Mr. Hauter's farm this summer, pulling weeds, squashing bugs and spreading goat manure to protect the vegetables.

Despite the intense labor, neither would care to be doing anything else.

"It's hard work, but it's worth it," said Mr. Torres.

"I like the outdoors, I'm getting into better shape and growing vegetables the right way."

Mr. Hauter said hot spots for CSAs are Wisconsin, Oregon, California and Nevada. But the concept is growing in the District.

People like to know what they are eating, he said.

"The growing concept of local vegetables is for them to be in season," said Mr. Hauter, who describes his job as gardening on a grand scale.

"In the supermarket, you have no idea where the food is coming from. Sometimes, there is no labeling. You have no control over it.

"Customers can come to my farm and come see the food growing if they want. They can see the conditions that I work in."

Convenience used to be a problem for busy professionals, but not anymore if CSAs like Planet Veg have anything to do with it.

In the end, the tradeoff is one of choices. Veggie lovers have to choose between cooking what they want, or fresh vegetables.

"I have to learn how to cook what's in season. It gives me more options in my search to find gourmet meals," said Mrs. Auburn, who not only runs the organization that supports CSAs, but buys from one as well.

"I think that's part of the fun of it," she said.

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