Sara Patterson’s love of gardening led her to start a farm that now feeds several dozen families and cofound a nonprofit that advocates for policies benefiting small rural and urban agriculture.
The venture just outside of Cedar City is thriving. The for-profit Red Acre Farm sells shares in the operation, and in return, the 40 member families get food for three meals a day, seven days a week for a year. There is a long waiting list to become a member.
The nonprofit Red Acre Center for Food and Agriculture lobbies for legislation that boosts community-supported agriculture programs, or CSAs. The center has helped win passage of bills that allow raw milk sales on farms and loosen restrictions on farmers who sell homemade food.
Sara began growing and selling food to friends and neighbors when she was 12. Two years later, in 2009, the farm became a CSA operation. Under this type of operation, local residents buy shares of the anticipated harvest, becoming members and shareholders of the CSA farm.
Sara’s parents, Lynn and Symbria Patterson, soon began working the 2-acre farm with their daughter. Red Acre is still a family affair – Sara, now 25, runs the farm and Symbria runs the center and also works part-time on the farm. (Lynn passed away in 2015.)
Under the CSA program, members come to the farm every week to pick up what they need in almost any quantity and combination they want. Sometimes scarce items such as prime cuts of meat and honey are limited but most food is available on an all-you-can-eat basis.
“They take what their families will eat that week,” Sara said, adding the food is not for storage.
The offerings include vegetables, fruit, raw goat and cow milk, cheese, yogurt, eggs, meat and grains. The meat and fruit are brought in from other farms but the rest comes from Red Acre.
“We want our members to supplement from the store and eat from the farm rather than supplement from the farm and eat from the store,” Sara said.
The current weekly cost is $63 per adult, $36.75 for children 13 to 15 years old, $26.25 for children 6 to 12, and free for children 5 and under.
The farm also sells produce from a food stand and prepared food from its kitchen, offers tours for schools and holds farmhouse classes that include making bread, quiche, pie, jam and cookies. An annual fundraising dinner and volunteers help support the operation.
Sara and Symbria also have been successful off the farm in their legislative efforts. The Pattersons and a part-time lobbyist for the center have a presence at the capitol every year and more than a dozen bills they supported have passed, according to Symbria.
“We’ve built some relationships there,” she said. “It’s been a really positive experience and it’s made a difference.”
Red Acre Center became a membership organization last year and more than 100 people have joined already. The interest in the nonprofit center is no surprise to Sara and Symbria.
“There were hundreds and hundreds of people who felt they had no voice,” Symbria said.
In addition to lobbying, the center holds educational events, including the annual Utah Farm and Food Conference. The 2021 event is scheduled for Jan. 14-16 in Cedar City and registration opens on August 10.