A new pilot program was unveiled this month at the Electric Power Board that allows employees to enroll in a farm share with Crabtree Farms and receive weekly deliveries of fresh fruits and vegetables directly to their offices on Friday afternoons.

The program is a spin-off on traditional community-supported agriculture programs, or CSAs, where consumers pay a lump sum to a particular farm at the beginning of the growing season and receive food from their harvests every week, usually from May through October.

The pilot program is an attempt to explore innovative ways to get more local food in the hands of more people, according to Gaining Ground’s Lacie Stone.

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“It is a pilot program between Crabtree Farms and EPB. We want to help facilitate and document the process to use it as a case study to take to other employers,” she said.

According to Tastebuds, the Chattanooga region’s guide to locally grown and crafted foods, there are 16 area farms offering CSAs to the public. Some have already begun, while others offer a second enrollment period through the winter. Dairy and meat products are also available, depending on the farm.

EPB selected Crabtree Farms for their pilot because of their longstanding place in the community and their commitment to education.

During the 29-week program this year, 21 members of EPB’s “green team,” an internal interest group focused on environmental stewardship, will be able to pick up their groceries and talk to the growers right in the convenience of their downtown offices. A monthly payroll deduction makes the budget manageable for most, with participation costing $450 for a half share and $950 for a full share.

Each share consists of a random selection of produce, depending on what is harvested each week. It provides an abundance of food, but not everything in the share is familiar. You just get what you get.

David DiBiase signed up for a half share and has already received his first delivery of greens, kohlrabi, leeks, beets, kale and oregano.

“The price was pretty reasonable, and I get a chance to try different types of vegetables I wouldn’t normally get,” he said.

Recipes are included with some of the deliveries, and employees have the option of joining Crabtree Farms’ newsletter list to receive more ideas on how to prepare what is in their share.

EPB’s environmental coordinator Elizabeth Crenshaw Hammitt is managing the pilot program for the company and said offerings may expand to include cooking classes.

If all goes well this year, Hammitt said the program could expand to a broader base of employees by the next growing season.

“The EPB mission is to increase the quality of life in our community. Being a part of this program supports the economy and local sustainable agriculture while giving the employer an opportunity to provide a low-maintenance employee benefit,” Hammitt said.

The trend is building in Chattanooga with one of the area’s largest employers already in its second season of making local food available to employees.

In 2011, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee’s downtown campus on Cameron Hill launched a weekly farmers market exclusively for their workers. 

The program was such a success for the employees and the farms that officials were able to fine-tune the plan for 2012 with a new focus to work only with organic and sustainable farms, according to corporate wellness coordinator Ryan Picarella.

After completing an employee survey following last year’s market, Picarella said it was obvious that the farmers market was a success in many ways.

“People were buying more produce, feeding their families more produce; they are more educated about what they are eating and are cooking more,” he said.

Like EPB, BCBST also hosted farmers in the offices to lead cooking classes using the harvested ingredients. As far as expanding the benefit to offer employees CSAs, Picarella said they are keeping in touch with how everything goes with EPB’s pilot this year.

“We’re going to watch this year. If there is enough interest we might add it. I think it’s a great concept, but we haven’t gone in that direction yet,” Picarella said.

Hammitt said she is not only excited about discovering ways to eat kohlrabi, a vegetable she had never tried before it was in her CSA bag last week, but she is optimistic about the potential of the entire pilot.

“We are really excited about this pilot and the opportunity to test this new business model and the possibility it could have for local farmers and the local economy,” she said.

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