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More Americans Buying Home Grown Vegetables This Summer

The creation of a vegetable garden at the White House - a project championed by U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama - has delighted advocates of fresh, locally-grown, organic produce. For those Americans lacking the time, skills, or a suitable plot of land, there is another option; Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA.

The basic business model has been around for years, but those involved say the concept is benefitting from a resurgence of interest among U.S. consumers in the origins and quality of their food.

The vegetables, fruits and herbs growing on this small farm in West Virginia are not destined for the supermarket shelf. Instead, they will travel straight to homes in the Washington, D.C. area.

Just a few hours after harvest on a very wet June morning, this load arrives at a suburban neighborhood in Bethesda, Maryland - around 100 kilometers from the farm.

Farmer Allan Balliet unloads the year's first delivery, which is sorted into bags, for pick-up by subscribers on a weekly basis during growing season.

Consumers like Margie Orrick pay $600 for a share of the crops produced over an 18 week season. Orrick sees it as a good deal, although that is not her primary motivation. Instead, she is evangelical about the taste of the produce, like the carrots they got one year.

"They exploded in our mouth because it was just such a fresh taste and it made the carrots from our local grocery store taste like cardboard and I'd never thought that they tasted like cardboard until I really tasted a real carrot," said Margie Orrick.

There are other considerations too, like preserving the rural landscape.

"Knowing where your food comes from, which was very appealing; getting it fresh, which was quite appealing," she said.

Like farmers everywhere, Allan Balliet worries about the weather and the host of things that can destroy a crop. If all goes well, though, he should not have sleepless nights over money. That is because, under the CSA model, subscribers pay up front at the start of the season, freeing up the farmer to focus on quality and variety.

"Conventional farms are entirely driven by borrowing the money for the seed, borrowing the money for the chemicals, and then paying it back after harvest," said Allan Balliet. "We don't have to borrow money. We have our entire budget sitting in the bank, theoretically, before we plant the first seed."

The direct-to-consumer model allows Allan Balliet to use older, so-called 'heirloom', varieties - selected for their taste and nutritional value, not their ability to withstand long periods in transit or storage.

"The people that belong to our CSA aren't gourmands by any means, even though we do have some ambassadors' households and some chefs that subscribe to our CSA," he said. "But, on the whole, they are just D.C. people who, once they've had a taste of what real good food tastes like, they just aren't happy with what they get from the grocery store."

He attributes much of the food's flavor to the system of organic agriculture he practices, known as biodynamics.

For example, rather than using chemical compounds; weeds and other harmful organisms are killed off with a gas burner.

CSA farms aim to educate the communities they serve about the way their food is grown. Consumers are encouraged to visit and lend a hand, with the idea of forging a bond between producer and consumer.

For the farmer, advance payment may provide some peace of mind, but Allan Balliet says it also produces a strong sense of obligation to deliver.