NICKTOWN - Victoria Cope of Johnstown can't bring herself to buy a tomato at the grocery store any more.
Cope has participated in the Community Supported Agriculture program at Scott and Christine Farabaugh's Blue Goose Farm, Nicktown, since it started in 2008. Cope and her daughter first came across the farm at a Johnstown farmers market.
"I'll be honest with you, and you'd think Scott was paying me to say this. He's not. Once he started growing tomatoes and we started eating his tomatoes I cannot bring myself to buy one in (stores). I just, I can't do it. I tried once maybe the second year, I was short on a tomato and had needed one and it was an absolute waste."
Mirror photos by J.D. Cavrich
Scott Farabaugh, owner of Blue Goose?Farm in Nicktown, shows zucchini squash from the farm. Blue Goose Farm, which is part of the Community Supported Agriculture program, has 200 members.
Steph Paronish, Noah Noel (center) and David Farabaugh, all of Nicktown, package bags of salad mix grown at the farm.
Nathan Farabaugh, 11, holds a tray of radishes.
A CSA program is when someone from the public buys a share or membership in a participating farmer's harvest, and receives a portion of that harvest weekly during the farming season, said the Local Harvest website. Members pay up front for the whole season in most programs.
CSA programs got their start "in the late '80s, but really took off in the early 2000s," the Farabaughs said in an email.
Benefits of participating in the program include, "knowing where and how your food is grown; eating fresher, healthier foods; supporting organic agriculture; investing in the local economy; and connecting with the seasons through food," they said.
To be added to the Blue Goose Farm mailing list for next season, email your name, address, phone number and email address to email@example.com.
On the web: http://www.bluegoosefarmnicktown.com/
"Grocery stores supply all veggies all year, many imported from other countries. By eating locally grown foods, people gain a sense of what crops are 'naturally' grown each season and come to appreciate them more," they said.
The Farabaughs have grown their program from 123 members to more than 200 over the years, according to their website.
Although they are not taking on any new members this season, which is coming up on week eight out of 18, those interested can join a mailing list to get ready for next season.
Locations for Blue Goose Farm CSA pick-ups are currently in Cambria County.
"We have many sites in and around Johnstown, as well as Ebensburg, Loretto, Carrolltown and Nicktown," they said.
The cost of investing in the Blue Goose Farm program varies annually. This year's share cost members about $18 a week.
Dino and Charlene Tessari of Johnstown joined the program this year, they wrote in an email.
"There are two reasons that we joined; first, supporting local businesses including the farming industry is important to us. Secondly, we are excited to receive fresh produce weekly," they said.
They enjoy growing produce in their own small garden, but "we have limited space and only plant vegetables that we know will grow," they said. "Blue Goose has provided us with vegetables that we would not normally purchase in a store along with our favorites."
Cope said through the CSA, "we are being introduced to things that never in a million years would I think, 'Ah, I'll just buy one of those in the store. I don't know what it is but I'll buy it.' ... But because they're in the boxes - things like kohlrabi, things like kale and swiss chard and garlic scape - wow, they're awesome."
The Tessaris said Blue Goose Farm shares recipes for what is picked for the week "and the vegetables have been excellent with some new to our palate. The weekly emails let us know the upcoming produce so it's easy to plan meals."
Having had family refer them to the program, they now "highly recommend" it themselves, they said.
The program cultivates a sense of family.
"I like the family feel and the community feel," said Cope's daughter, Daniella Errett, also of Johnstown, who teaches at Pennsylvania Highlands Community College.
She shared information on the program at work, and the college, which is also a pick-up site, offered their employees a financial assist, allowing them to have the cost of a share taken out of their pay spread out over several weeks.
"Our family joined their family and it's just so nice to have that kind of big family environment where we share recipes and tips and food and pick-ups and drop-offs and all those kinds of things," Errett said.
That feeling is part of the investment, according to the Local Harvest website.
"Many times, the idea of shared risk is part of what creates a sense of community among members, and between members and the farmers," it said. "If a hailstorm takes out all the peppers, everyone is disappointed together, and together cheer on the winter squash and broccoli. Most CSA farmers feel a great sense of responsibility to their members, and when certain crops are scarce, they make sure the CSA gets served first."
Cope is happy with her participation in the Blue Goose Farm CSA.
"There's nothing I don't like about it. That's honest, absolutely honest," Cope said. "I like the fact that, first of all we're supporting local farmers. I'm a big person in being a steward of the earth and I'm not crazy about all the extras that we do for whatever we want, you know, the extra shipping across the country and all that sort of stuff. If I can buy local, I am delighted to do so."
Other area farms with CSA programs: Eden View, Warriors Mark, edenviewfoods.com; and Friends Farm, Williamsburg, which has a Facebook page.
Mirror Staff Writer Amanda Gabeletto is at 949-7030. Follow her on Twitter (@AmandaGabeletto) or on Facebook (Amanda Gabeletto Altoona Mirror).