The Peas and Queues of CSAs

Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) is sprouting up all over

By Laura Rebecca Kenyon

The Finger Lakes region has an abundance of CSAs, and members and farmers are reaping the benefits. It’s a win-win partnership between a local farm and the surrounding community, with the shareholders paying upfront and getting their goods—rainbow chard, root veggies and sweet corn—on a weekly basis throughout the season.

Andy Fellenz, of Fellenz Family Farm, explains why it works for him.

“My expenses are concentrated at the beginning of a season, when I’m purchasing the supplies I need, paying taxes and doing all the things to keep the farm up and running. In other marketing models, money comes in after you’ve sold the crop, so you have to operate the farm on borrowed money.With a CSA, I can avoid that.”

Like the people who run and join them, each CSA has its own character. The common thread is an enthusiastic commitment to linking people with fresh and affordable food. For some members, the opportunity to get their hands dirty digging out carrots or cleaning and sorting produce makes them feel like the farm is their own, if only for a few hours.

“I love standing in the U-pick rows, plucking ripe Sungold tomatoes from the vine and popping them into my mouth,” says Leah Shafer, a member of the Sweet Land Farm CSA in Trumansburg.

Seasonal eating may be a departure from the norm.

“We’ve grown up being used to convenience,” says Darren Maum, owner of Salvere Farms in Marietta. “We can eat whatever we want, whenever we want it, whatever season it happens to be. A CSA doesn’t work that way. You don’t get your tomatoes in the first week of June; you have to wait for them. It’s a different way of eating but if you’re open minded, it’s a more interesting way to eat.”

Being open-minded is also essential when it comes to using your weekly goods. A share might be chock full of mizuna (a peppery-tasting salad green), garlic scapes (the young, curled shoot of a garlic plant) or celeriac (a knobby-looking root vegetable in the celery family).

“Prepare to have your fridge full of veggies!” advises Jaimie Voorhees, another Sweet Land Farm member.

Freshness is a factor in the experience. Members take home vine ripened, responsibly raised food that makes no detours between the farm and the dinner plate.

“We pick our food Monday morning, we distribute it Monday afternoon and we’re eating it Monday night,” says Dave Kavanagh, a member and administrator of a CSA in Canandaigua.

Shareholders may experience sticker shock when they see the upfront costs, but when broken down the rate is appealing. If a farm charges $500 for a 26-week share that feeds four people, the price per week is about $19, under $4 per person. In addition, farmers have created programs for low-income families so that they too have access to good, fresh food.

Elizabeth Henderson of Peacework Farm in Newark, which serves the greater Rochester area through the Genesee Valley Organic CSA (GVOCSA) says, “We try not to exclude anyone because of the inability to pay.”

The GVOCSA subsidizes shares through member and church group contributions, accepts food stamps and charges on a sliding scale, from as little as $8.50 per week.

“A CSA can be a great experience,” says Fellenz. “It will introduce you to food you haven’t had to eat before. You get to meet people you probably wouldn’t meet. And you can see exactly where your food is coming from, exactly how it’s being grown.”

Voorhees recommends the experience, “I’m providing my family with the best possible nutrient-rich, organic produce and I am supporting the farm family, who are now my friends.”

This article originally appeared in our Spring 2008 edition. 

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