Earth Concerns News
The ABCs (Arugula, Beets, Cabbage) of CSA of (Community Supported Agriculture) by Betsy Van Deusen
So what is it all about?
Community Supported Agriculture is about 25-years old. The premise is that people want to support local farmers, get good fresh produce and feel connected to the food they eat. The concept is to pay for a “share” early in the season; usually farms are advertising now for “members” or “shareholders” for the upcoming season. According to Local Harvest (www.localharvest.org), there are over two million farms in this country, Eighty percent are small and mostly family-run farms, and thousands of these small farms have started to offer their crops to people like us who want to “invest” in their own community. “By direct sales to community members who have provided the farmer with working capital in advance, growers receive better prices for their crops, gain some financial security and are relieved of much of the burden of marketing.” (www.nal.usda.gov)
Can you pick it up or shall I plan to?
That is the conversation that we have with our “share mates,” the Dominican Sisters of Peace at the Dominican Retreat and Conference Center. Each week from early July through late October (this past year, early November), we receive a large box (5-20 pounds) of farm-fresh (harvested that day!) produce that we pick up at the Regional Food Bank. The box is chock full of carrots, onions, lettuce, zucchini, eggplant, summer squash, corn, tomatoes and peppers and then a whole array of vegetables that I didn’t know – kale, red lettuce, Swiss chard, cabbage, potatoes (five varieties last year! Who knew there were so many?). Lin and I have a great time trying to get it all eaten by the time the next box comes. We also “put some up” as my grandmother used to say in the freezer to enjoy this time of year!
Why have we chosen to participate?
We like fresh produce in season. We like to support the local farmer. The CSA we participate in is run by the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern NY. The farm is located on a land trust in Knox (a hill town of Albany County) and has almost become self-sufficient. The yield that exceeds the member shares goes directly to the Food Bank and is made available to food pantries and soup kitchens at no cost to those programs. Sometimes I see the same items we received in our share at a food pantry or soup kitchen. I love to talk to guests about what they can do with butternut squash! By our participation, we are literally feeding the hungry in the area. Getting to meet the farmer and beginning a relationship is another benefit of this partnership.
How do you find a CSA?
On the Local Harvest website, I found the following cities and towns participate: Albany, Amsterdam, Binghamton, Cohoes, Cortland, Depew, Elmira, Endicott, Endwell, Fulton, Glens Falls, Gloversville, Ithaca, Johnson City, Oneonta, Oswego, Rome, Rotterdam, Saratoga Springs, Schenectady, Syracuse, Troy, Utica, and Watervliet. Putting CSA and your town in your computer’s search engine will bring up what is in your area.
What if you don’t like to eat vegetables or only like certain vegetables?
It is fair to say that CSAs are not for everyone. The share is determined by what is ready at any given time, and sometimes that means a number of “different” vegetables. If you like to know what you are getting, you might choose to go to the local farmer’s market instead. The other caution is you receive a lot of food, and we only get a half-share; so be ready to cook and eat a bounty of incredibly delicious food! There is a “share” box at the pick-up site, so if there is something you won’t use, you can leave it for someone else. The following questions can certainly help with your decision. Do I like to cook and does my schedule allow me to make homemade meals most evenings? Will it be fun to eat vegetables that are new to me? How will I handle excess produce? (Do you have a neighbor who would like to get some if you get “behind”?) Feeling bad about wasting food is one of the top reasons former CSA members cite for not renewing. Am I willing to accept the unknowns involved in shared risk?
A fifth generation farmer in Colonie told me that starting a CSA saved his farm, and the encouragement he receives from the shareholders has enlivened his commitment to the work of his hands. I go to his stand at the Farmer’s Market for whatever additional ingredients I need to put all the great veggies to good use! We are more than happy to talk about our experience of the CSA and even share some new veggies with you if you want!