On Saturday, I visited Poplar Ridge Farm (at 1619 Waxhaw Indian Trail Road South, Waxhaw, NC), currently the only 100% certified organic farm operating in the south Charlotte region. (There is a neighboring farm working on getting their certification reinstated.) Poplar Ridge, named for the enormous Tulip Poplar tree on the property, has been around since 1985 and is owned by Marianne Battistone and Philip Norwood. Marianne, who gave the tour of her farm, has a background in dance and injury prevention, had a long career at Conde Nast publications and is currently a contributing editor for health and fitness at SELF magazine.
Poplar Ridge Farm primarily serves members of its Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). A CSA is a way to source local and seasonal food directly from the grower (farm) by buying shares at the beginning of a season. The farm then knows how much food to produce and can concentrate on quality output. Shareholders receive food on a weekly basis, chosen by the grower based on freshness and readiness. Usually a CSA allows you to purchase a full share or a half share (split with another member). I’ve joined their CSA this year with a full share, and I wanted to see where my food will come from and how it is grown.
Poplar Ridge has about 200 shares this summer season. They do not require shareholders to work on the farm as some farm co-ops do. Poplar Ridge plants and grows 80% for the CSA, 5% for crop loss, and 15% for area chefs and surplus to sell at the farm. Their CSA is mostly produce and herbs, but they also have a flower CSA, and can do a CSA with partner products like eggs, poultry and goat cheese. New this year, they will be selling surplus crops to the public from 2-6pm on Wednesdays at the farm.
The farm constructed its first high tunnel last year, and it was able to produce crops in the cold for a 10 week winter CSA. There are fewer winter shares than in the summer. But not to worry, they’ll be putting in another high tunnel in July, leveraging a grant to entice NC tobacco farmers to turn their fields to organic crops. Out of 80 acres of land, Poplar Ridge currently farms on 5 acres. Organic farming is tough to turn a profit, according to Marianne, but every little improvement she makes can help make a difference. For example, they’ve added a new, larger greenhouse where they can grow their own organic seedlings to reduce the cost of having to buy seedlings.
It’s nice to know that the food won’t come with any pesticides on it. They use flowers and diversion crops planted along the rows to keep the bad bugs off the crops and the beneficial insects nearby. Compost piles are carefully turned and the temperatures measured several times per day. Manure from horses kept on the farm keep the compost rich to naturally fertilize the crops.
If you’d like to experience Poplar Ridge Farm, stop by their farm on Wednesdays to get the surplus produce. Or, attend one of the five planned Farm-to-Table Dinners this year – four in June and one in the Fall, at $65 per person. These popular dinners will be held on the farm on the beautiful patio outside the eco-building overlooking the lap pool. Each dinner is small (only about 20-24 people), and will feature a guest speaker and very fresh food. I hear they are not to be missed! Similar dinners on other farms that have been done as charitable fund raisers have gone for well over $100 per person. See their website for further details.