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Veggies Au Naturel : Community-supported farm in Carpinteria sells a grab bag of organic produce for an advance fee.

March 11, 1994|ROBIN GREENE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Robin Greene is a regular contributor to The Times

It's hard to imagine anyone ever getting truly excited about beets, beans and broccoli or cabbage, kale and kohlrabi. But, then again, most people don't buy their vegetables from Steve Moore.

Those who do get their produce from Moore's Carpinteria ranch rave about his veggies in terms usually reserved for sinful, calorie-laden desserts.

"The tomatoes are to die for," says Deborah Hawkins of Northridge. "The corn is just out of this world, and it is still sweet and tender two weeks after it's been delivered."

Adds Nancy Monkman of Reseda: "The carrots are so sweet and yummy. . . . Everything is delicious."

What makes Moore's vegetables so delectable, according to the farmer and his customers, is the biodynamic, or natural, methods used to grow them. But don't go looking for Moore's organically grown produce in your local grocery store.

Moore runs a community supported farm, the only such farm that delivers to the Los Angeles area, which provides produce in what amounts to a pay-in-advance program for a once-a-week grab bag of fruits and vegetables.

In Moore's case, about 250 households pay a flat yearly fee, which gives Moore the cash he needs to run his ranch. In return, he delivers a box of freshly picked vegetables once a week to a prearranged drop-off point in Northridge. Other drop-off points include Pasadena, Thousand Oaks, Santa Monica and Malibu.

This year's fee--or share--will be $720 (there is a $30 discount for early payment) or about $17 a week for 42 weeks of fresh vegetables, beginning in mid-April and running through January, 1995. Shares are often split by two or more families.

"When we first started with this, I priced organic produce and Steve's price was better," Monkman says. "I haven't compared prices in awhile but I assume that still holds."

"I am so happy about the higher quality that I don't even think about the price," Hawkins says. "This stuff has a really long shelf life, and I figure I'm saving a bundle just on the gourmet salad mix."

The bags of mixed salad--a combination of six lettuces, arugula, mustard greens, mizuna and frisee--are among about 15 items included in the weekly boxes of vegetables.

Over the growing season, the farm provides any combination of 40 items, including such standards as avocados, cauliflower, eggplant, onions, peppers, spinach and squash. Also on the list are such fruits as apples, peaches, strawberries and lemons, as well as eggs and fresh herbs.

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Each box includes Moore's "Harvest Notes," a newsletter featuring information about the week's haul, storage tips and recipes.

If you're not willing to experiment with the more offbeat items, Moore provides an "extras box" at the drop-off point so customers can exchange items they don't care for with extras from the day's harvest.

"We get enough vegetables for an entire week in one box," says Eileen Wells of Northridge, who feeds a family of four. "The food is impeccably fresh. You know absolutely that there are no pesticides or anything else you wouldn't want in your food."

For most of Moore's customers, that's the selling point. A former environmental engineering professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Moore takes a part-scientific, part-philosophic approach to farming.

"In our modern chemical age, the focus is on killing things," said Moore, who began experimenting with organic farming soon after taking over his family's 60-acre ranch near Santa Barbara in the early 1980s.

By 1985, Moore had been converted to a different--biodynamic--approach. "We focus on fostering life," he said. "We talk about the soil as a living entity. We integrate animals into the farm using a rotational grazing system. And we try to balance the work of producing food profitably while hopefully enhancing the health of the environment."

It wasn't until early 1991, however, that Moore turned to community supported farming. A late 1990 freeze had devastated his farm and turning to the community seemed to be Moore's most viable option.

"I got an attitude adjustment real fast," Moore says. "By late March, 1991, we were selling shares. It's been a crash course in survival and every year we try to get a better balance." His farm is one of more than 70 community supported farms across the nation.

Where and When What: Shares of produce from Moore Ranch, 5844 Casitas Pass Road, Carpinteria. When: Season begins the second week in April, ends sometime in January, 1995. Produce is delivered to a prearranged drop-off point in Northridge and other areas. Cost: $720 a year per share, paid in five installments. $690 a year if paid in full. A limited number of shares remain available. Call: (805) 684-8046.

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