TERRA ALTA - It was just after 7 a.m. on the Round Right Farm here and the rain outside was steadily increasing, working its way up to a full downpour.
Sunshine Vortigern, who owns, operates and lives on the 40-acre vegetable and beef farm with her husband Steve and their two children, pulled on her rain gear at the far end of the building that serves as the operation's staging area, the employee break room and space where harvested crops are washed.
As Vortigern readied herself for the deluge outside, a group of six employees milled around drinking coffee out of canning jars as they listened to a bluegrass radio station playing over a laptop sitting on a nearby table.
Bella, a black and gray mutt, ran around underfoot, making circuits of the small building, pausing to sniff at shoes and inviting a belly rub. Her fur, bedraggled from the rain, smelled unmistakably like a recent encounter with a skunk.
"We usually have beautiful mornings here," Vortigern said. "But we've got to carry on anyways."
Vortigern said normally when she and the team are doing their work of harvesting, tending and weeding the fields from 6:45 a.m. to 11 a.m., they're treated to a stunning sunrise. Today, a dense fog rolled down from the mountains and blanketed the ground in mist.
Vortigern said everything harvested over the next few rain-soaked hours would be washed, bagged and loaded onto a truck to be sold at the Morgantown Farmer's Market the next morning.
This "from field to market" philosophy is a big part of the Vortigern farming philosophy. Vortigern said the operation aims to offer affordable, sustainably raised produce that meets the needs of local consumers.
Even though they have never gone through the arduous process of becoming certified organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the farm grows all of its produce free of chemicals and in accordance with the Vortigerns' rigorous personal standards.
"I don't want to eat pesticides, so why would I want to grow with them?" Vortigern asked.
At the Morgantown Farmer's Market, Vortigern sees anywhere from 200 and 500 customers. The family also takes produce to the Oakland Farmer's Market in Maryland.
Farmer's markets are at the heart of small family farming, but Vortigern said the business they do at markets accounts for about half of their total sales. The rest comes from their Community Supported Agriculture program, or CSA.
Vortigern likens the CSA to a traditional co-op, except members invest money instead of their time or labor. Customers pay $420 each at the beginning of the season in exchange for a box of produce each week for 20 weeks.
"Instead of having to take a loan out of the bank every spring, we can take it out the community," Vortigern said.
For the 2013 season, Round Right's CSA has 175 members. Seven years ago, it started with 20 members.
Through the farm's website, CSA members can customize the contents of their weekly deliveries by choosing to add more items, swap out items for other choices or change the quantities at an additional cost.
If members choose not to customize their boxes, they'll receive a diverse selection of whatever has been harvested recently.
This week, the standard boxes include fennel, peas, bags of salad mix, spinach, cilantro and beets. Some weeks the farm is able to offer its members the choice of adding bread or cheese made by local artisans.