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Searching for fresh produce?

Look locally: Meat, dairy products also among area bounty

Article from Hartke Is Online

By Glenn Evans

Kevin Green/News-Journal Photo
Jerica Cadman holds a fresh gallon of milk at TrueFields farm in Hallsville.'You can actually purchase part of our dairy herd and pay us to take care of and milk your cow,' she said.

Cooperative produce ventures are taking root in Northeast Texas.

For Arlene Parker, the farm to market road started six years ago when the former organic tomato grower from Washington moved to the Gladewater area.

She went to the grocery store looking for fruit.

"I knew if I was looking for (fresh produce), other people must be looking for it. That's when I started seeking out local fruits," Parker said.

Today, Parker and her partner, Fred Garfield, welcome bunches of shoppers to a house on U.S. 271 that's gradually been sacrificed to bushels of the earth's bounty. She abandoned the small house to the fruits and vegetables and moved a trailer onto the property two years ago.

Parker made a point to meet local producers.

"If I'm going to buy from a local farmer, I'm going to drill them — do you use pesticides? what do you put in your soil?" she said.

The third degrees go as far as the Dallas Farmers Market where Parker and other local sellers go to supplement local supplies. She also purchases vacuum-sealed beans in bulk from dealers she trusts, including naturally grown produce retailer Tree of Life which has a distribution center in Dallas.

"The produce that I bring in is from farmers that I know the way they grow," she said, adding a few trusted individual gardeners help fill her shelves for a growing locavore market.

"Locavore," she repeated the word being used for people who try to stock their kitchens from nearby sources. "I love that term."

Norma Tomlin started a produce market three weeks ago outside the former Etta's Cafe in Pritchett, a diner on Texas 155 she recently bought and renamed The Tomlin House at Etta's Cafe.

"And it's doing very well," she said. "It's because the produce is better."

She noted tainted spinach and peanut butter episodes in recent years courtesy of corporate agri-business.

"We've had so much to draw our attention to our health and welfare in the last few years," Tomlin said. "We're just more cautious of the health problems and, of course, the economics."

That's personal economics as well as regional economic health one of Parker's regular customers said.

"It means being able to support the local growers," said David Jackson of White Oak, who shops Parker's unnamed cooperative outlet with his wife, Krystal. "And, in the process, it's knowing exactly how they are growing and trading local produce, and keeping that resource alive so it will be there for us."

Parker's cooperative elements include agreements with local people who pick up 25 pounds of produce weekly for a $25 subscription. The practice is temptingly similar to elements of a movement called community supported agriculture.

After sprouting in land-starved Europe and Japan, community supported agriculture leapt both ponds and began spreading from Massachusetts in 1986, according to the director of the local and organic food Web site, Local Harvest.

"It's continuing to grow at a remarkable rate," Director Erin Barnett said of community supported agriculture, or CSA.

She described a pure model of CSA as people pooling resources to buy land and hiring a farmer to work it.

"I have heard of the situation where a couple of people would approach a farmer and say, 'We think this is a good idea for our community,' " Barnett said. "More often, the farmer has an idea that this is a good idea to move this way."

Community supported agriculture projects are thick on the East and West Coasts, according to Local Harvest, with scattered farms in Texas, mostly in the Austin area and none in Gregg or surrounding counties — yet.

Matt and Jerica Cadman might be the next step between co-op produce outlets and CSA.

People can buy grass-fed beef by individual cut or bulk right off TrueFields, the 140-acre certified naturally grown farm and ranch the Cadmans lease south of Hallsville.

"And we'll have pastured pork which you can get by the half or a whole pig," the wife said.

The certified naturally grown designation is less rigorous than the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's organic label, but undergoes peer review before farmers or ranchers can claim it.

A herd share program at TrueFields brings local consumers, or locavores, even closer to ownership of the food process.

"You can actually purchase part of our dairy herd and pay us to take care of and milk your cow," she said.

The couple hopes to have produce from two gardens available later.

"This is what people used to do 100 years ago," she said. "Everybody had a garden, and every town had its own butcher."

She said community supported agriculture is a wave from the past that's on its way back.

"The benefit of doing a CSA is, for farmers we have guaranteed a customer (for ourselves)," she said. "I'd really like to see that happen here."

Local Harvest's Barnett added political security to the list of health and other community benefits farmers reap by signing up local investors.

"If the state wants to put a highway through your farm, to have a few hundred people in town who just cannot live without your produce is very helpful," she said.

The Jacksons credit their natural diet with improving their own health as well as equipping their 9-year-old daughter in a fight against a form of colitis. The husband said the family is thankful it found an end-run around modern food outlets.

"It has been a real godsend to have it available to us," he said, "and here, close by."

* * *

Contact dealers in this story

- The Tomlin House at Etta's Cafe: (903) 790-4404, Texas 155 in the Pritchett Community, between Gilmer and Gladewater

- Arlene Parker: (903) 845-8430, U.S. 271 one-tenth of a mile north of Union Grove Independent School District campuses

- TrueFields (Matt and Jerica Cadman): Call (903) 241-2775 or go to www.truefields.com


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