Philip Gottwals and Tim Hosking, co-founders of Friends & Farms, in their Gerwig Lane facility.

Philip Gottwals and Tim Hosking, co-founders of Friends & Farms, in their Gerwig Lane facility. (photo by Sarah Pastrana / April 16, 2013)

Janet Hirsch says she has always been an adventurous eater, willing to try new things.

But the Catonsville resident never ate pork ribs, Delmonico steaks or even turnips -- until last year.

That’s when Hirsch joined Friends & Farms, a Columbia-based company that connects consumers and farmers through weekly food shares.

“The quality of the meat we get is fantastic,” she says. “And it turns out turnips are really good. I like them.”

Hirsch, who picks up her stocked $51 food basket weekly, says she started with Friends & Farms in September to eat more local, sustainable foods and find new inspiration for mealtime.

Along the way, she has saved money by shopping less at the grocery store.

“It’s really affordable,” Hirsch says. “Most of the time, I don’t have to buy much else at the store.”

Bringing local fresh foods to customers at an affordable price is one of the reasons Philip Gottwals and Tim Hosking joined forces to launch Friends & Farms.

By working directly with the farmers, Friends & Farms enables customers to receive their food within a day or two of its harvest.

“In essence, that’s what we’re doing,” Hosking says. “Creating a connection between the two and giving them a better deal.”

How it started

Before Friends & Farms, Gottwals and Hosking worked in separate businesses. Gottwals, a Columbia resident, spent more than 20 years helping farmers improve their profitability. Hosking, who lived in New York, ran his own consulting firm.

But in 2011 their paths crossed on an agriculture project proposal. While the project never materialized, the connection between the two had formed.

“We came at the problems in the country’s food system from very different places and perspectives, but ultimately, we came to very similar conclusions on the likely solutions,” Hosking, who now splits his time between New York and Baltimore, says of his early relationship with Gottwals.

Gottwals wanted to create a system where food didn’t travel a week to 10 days before reaching customers, where farmers could grow more diversified crops while getting paid to do so and where customers could track where their food came from. And so the idea for Friends & Farms was born.

In early 2012, Hosking officially joined the effort, helping to finalize the company’s business plan. And on June 18, Friends & Farms delivered its first food basket.

How it works

Friends & Farms is a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program with a twist. Instead of working with one local farm as many CSAs do, Friends & Farms works with a network of more than 70 producers, with locations ranging from New York and Pennsylvania to Maryland, West Virginia and North Carolina.

This ensures customers get a variety of foods each week, all from local suppliers -- like vegetables from Richardson Farms in White Marsh, bread from The Breadery in Oella, cheese from Shepherds Manor Creamery in New Windsor, and fruit from Country Acres Cider and Produce in Waynesboro, Pa.

Subscriptions are for 13 weeks at a time, but Friends & Farms provides food baskets year-round. Most traditional CSAs run from spring through fall.