The vegetable plot is devoid of life this time of year at Cotton Plains Farm, but Shelley Barlow is thinking about what to plant later on to change that.
On the banks of Chuckatuck Creek, the farm raises mostly row crops — hence its name — but Barlow will embark on her ninth season of growing vegetables for folks who sign up and pay fee.
For between about $250 and $300 each — those who sign up early get a better rate — around 30 people, Barlow anticipates, will be able to call Cotton Plains their produce department this summer.
They’ll collect succulent sweet corn, ripe red tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers, peas, beans and other varieties, including some more exotic vegetables.
“Each one is very unique; everybody does things their own way,” Barlow explains of farmers who, like her, are involved in the Farm Bureau’s community-supported agriculture program.
According to websites listing local CSA farms, localharvet.org, buylocalvirginia.org, VaFarmBureau.org/marketplace and virginiagrown.com, Suffolk has four: Golden Eagle Alpaca Farm, Clayhill Farms, Full Quiver Farm and Acorn Hill Farms Produce. There’s also Batten Bay Farm in Carrollton.
Barlow said she grows about 40 different vegetables. “In the spring, a lot of root vegetables — turnips, onions, radishes,” she said. “In the middle of the season, more cucurbits — squash, cucumber and that sort of thing. Then at the end of the season, it’s tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, (and) then I also have a lot of beans and peas.
“I like to challenge my customers. I like my baskets to have a lot of variety. Last season, we averaged at least 10 different things each week.”
Barlow described some challenges in juggling her CSA program with other operations at Cotton Plains, where her husband Joseph has lived his entire life.
During the growing season, she spends at least an hour in the vegetable plot every day, and on Wednesdays and Thursdays, when folks pull up at the packing shed her husband built her, the sleeves are up from 7 a.m. till at least 5 p.m.
“Our situation boils down to labor,” Shelley Barlow said. “My stepson (Joey Barlow) has come back to the farm to work with us. … We do some gardening with equipment … but it gets down to a pair of gloves and a hat. All the harvesting is manual; there’s something that needs to be picked every day.”
There’s no stereotypical client: Barlow says all types enjoy farm-grown produce. “Some older people just want the traditional stuff, then I have a lot of young families who are trying to buy local — the whole local-foods movement — and want to know where their food’s coming from,” she said.
“They will get on the Internet … and write me back saying they’ve found a great recipe. They are a little more adventurous. I (also) have single people … (so) it’s a nice mix.”