What if, instead of juggling your schedule and battling traffic to get to the weekly farmer’s market, the market came to you? And what if selecting frilly greens and bumpy crookneck squash was as easy as clicking a button?
It’s possible for customers of Rhibafarms, a Chandler-Gilbert aquaponics farm that’s launched an online CSA. Now, shopping for fresh-picked, local produce is as easy as firing up your computer, smart phone or tablet.
“You’ll be able to pre-order what you want, and we can grow it for you,” says Mark Rhine, co-owner of the 2-year-old farm.
Turnaround time is only a matter of days because Rhibafarms specializes in microgreens, baby leafy greens and tender shoots that are ready for harvest quickly.
Shoppers will be able to log into an online CSA Store, browse available produce, and place an order. The veggies will be available for pickup typically within the next week.
“With the microgreens, we’ll give you the date of when they’ll be available to you, but you’ll also have choices of seasonal things to put in your box. So when it’s eggplant season or onion season, those things will be available until they’re (sold) out,” says Rhine.
Rhibafarms uses fish, naturally occurring bacteria and water to grow microgreens in a parking lot behind its downtown Chandler office and on a three-acre farm in Gilbert. The Gilbert property also raises dirt-grown crops that change with the seasons.
Among the food in the online store are peppers, salad greens, zucchini, cucumbers and baby Walla Walla sweet onions. More exotic items include sunflower shoots, edible squash blossoms, living wheatgrass, chia seeds and tea made from Gilbert-grown chrysanthemum flowers.
Customers will also be able to adopt free-range, organically raised hens or roosters. An online gallery of birds is scheduled to go online within a week.
“You get a jpeg photo of your chicken and a certificate, and you can name him or her,” says Rhine.
The fee covers the bird’s room and board at “Chicken Town,” on the Gilbert farm, and the man hours spent caring for the birds. Benefactors are given six eggs per week, or they may opt to have their hen’s eggs donated.
Community-supported agriculture, or CSA, is a popular way for consumers to buy local, seasonal food directly from a farmer, according to LocalHarvest.org, a website that provides a public nationwide directory of local and organic food sources.
In some traditional models, a farm offers shares for sale to the public. Customers purchase a share up front, sometimes called a membership or subscription, and in return receive food throughout the farming season.
In Rhibafarms’ model, there are no membership fees, says Rhine, and customers are not obligated to take home a box full of produce weekly or bi-weekly as in some CSA’s. Instead, customers register for an account online, buy points as they need them, then spend the points however they wish. Points are sold in increments of 80 for $20, and points don’t expire.
Instead of picking up a mystery box of produce, shoppers know exactly what they’re getting.
“In some CSA’s, you would pay $300 for a quarter, and you’ll get a box every week or two weeks of whatever they’re growing. We thought ours should be a la carte. We had both been CSA members in the past and were really disappointed. Half the boxes I purchased, I wouldn’t eat the food because I didn’t know what to do with it, and I would say I’m curious about food. Can you imagine a parent with a couple kids who’s working? Not everybody in the world knows what kohlrabi is or even know how to eat it.”
But, he says the online CSA is still a work in progress. Rhiba is a five-man operation, and most of their time is spent in the field.
“We’re getting emails daily about problems we’re having with the site. It’s going to be that way at first, and we really need those 10 or 20 people who are going to be patient and go through the bumps and grinds with us. There are going to be some mistakes,” he says.
He asks for patience as they work out the kinks.
“We’re just a small, teeny-tiny little farmer, and we’re trying to supply local people with good, local food. We’re trying to help them re-learn how to eat seasonally, teach them to grow their own food, like our grandparents did. We see real value in bringing back those old ways.”
Even, he says, if “you still have to work with the mentality of people in today’s world. Even if you’re vegan and grow your own food, you still have your computer, and you’re going to use it.”
Now, to shop from a local farmer.
Rhibafarms’ online CSA Store is open. For information, call (480) 632-0272 or visit www.rhibafarms.com
• Contact writer: (480) 898-6818 or email@example.com