CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The best testament to a farmer's growing practices is an invitation to his or her farm.
Kelly Crane and Terry Hudson, partners in the Kanawha Valley Community Supported Agriculture venture, wish more of their customers would visit.
"The gates are always open - we have nothing to hide," Hudson said of his Big Chimney farm.
Hudson Farms grows the greater share of the produce Hudson and Crane are now selling to subscribers who have signed on for weekly deliveries of produce through the growing season. Crane's Unicorn Lane Microfarm in South Charleston is literally a backyard operation.
Still, the two have expanded greatly from their five subscribers last year to 22 this season, along with a group of restaurants Hudson supplies. He also participates in Charleston's West Side Farmer's Market.
Crane, a native of North Carolina, moved to the Kanawha Valley four years ago enthusiastic to find ways to put her organic agriculture degree from the University of Georgia to work. She is project coordinator for the West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition.
She and her husband bought a home in South Charleston, where she said, "The first thing I did before we even bought a couch was plant a garden."
Microfarm it may be, but Crane has enough greens, tomatoes, herbs and garlic to feed her own family and sell the surplus.
She met Hudson, a longtime grower and agriculture education advocate, and the two decided to form the area's first CSA. While there are other CSAs in the state - Fish Hawk Acres and Monroe Farms to name two - this is the first local one operating.
"There is a groundswell of interest in local food and agriculture," Crane said.
Her and Hudson's 22 customers - and they have room for a few more - agree to pay a monthly fee ranging from $100 to $150 for weekly delivery of produce from June through September.
There is shared risk in that Mother Nature may affect planned crops. A dry season or pest could affect yield and subscribers accept that risk. On the other hand, a bountiful season benefits customers.
"Our customers are quote-unquote our partners," Hudson said.
Deliveries take place Thursdays at two downtown locations - Moxxee Coffee and Mission Savvy. East End customers who pay an extra fee can opt for home delivery.
A CSA teaches true seasonal eating. This month, customers are getting lots of greens, radishes and carrots - veggies that thrive on an early and cool start to their seeding.
Next month, expected crops include garlic, beets, beans, heirloom tomatoes and new potatoes. As the summer progresses, squash, peppers, zucchini and tomatoes are expected to be plentiful.
Each month brings an expectation of fresh herbs as well.
Customers also receive regular value-added products such as artisan bread and local honey that the CSA purchases from participating vendors.