by Eileen Weber
Sarah Puerini joined her local CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture, for the summer. So far, she has picked up two deliveries in Southport with enough fresh produce to sink a ship. She even has a Facebook page devoted to the recipes she makes with the deliveries.
“Holy cow! Can you say salad?!?” Puerini said on Facebook. “We’ll be eating tons of [it] this week as we got two huge heads of lettuce in our farm share and lots of other greens.”
Typically, consumers who are interested in a farm share program will pay up front for their “membership” or subscription to the group. That particular farm will drop off a certain portion of their produce once a week for members to pick up at a designated drop off point. Each crate is labeled with how much a member is allowed to take. Members can bring a reusable bag or another type container and fill ‘er up!
Puerini said that right now it does feel a little overwhelming with so many greens. “I really like doing this,” she said. “But there are only so many salads you can eat.” As a result, she has managed to try some unusual recipes with some of the produce. “I never tried arugula pesto before. But I was surprised. It was wicked good.”
She said she found her CSA from LocalHarvest.org. According to their web site, Local Harvest has the most comprehensive list of CSAs across the country. In 2008, they had signed up 557 CSAs. By the first few months of this year, they signed on an additional 300 groups.
LeeAnn Weaver and Sarah Bollman organize the CSA in Souhtport that Puerini attends. “Our CSA has a membership of 50 people now," said Weaver. “The money members pay up front goes toward what it costs the farmer to harvest the produce and for seeds for the following season. But the cost is not as economically challenging as people think it is.”
Bollman and Weaver joined the CSA with Stoneledge Farms in South Cairo, NY. With drop off sites in Stamford and Wilton, the farm was looking to expand into the Fairfield area. The two women worked hard to find a site and get members to sign up. But once they got their CSA listed on the Fairfield Green Food Guide, they had all of their shares filled up in less than a month. They now have a waiting list.
“Our membership is already educated and looking for good quality food,” said Bollman. “But you become more aware of where your food comes from and what the growing season is.”
Bill Duesing, Executive Director for the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Connecticut (CT NOFA), said the CSAs have continued to grow in popularity. “It’s really good for the farmers,” he said. “They have a guaranteed market. Then, they don’t necessarily have to depend on farmers’ markets. If the weather is bad, people don’t show and all that time spent goes to waste and it’s not financially worth it. With a CSA, it’s a known entity.”
In an article dated February 13th, 2009 in The New York Times, Patti Popp, the owner of Sport Hill Farm in Easton, Conn., said her shares doubled to about 75 and was sold out by New Year’s Day. Popp also said she was no longer going to farmers’ markets in favor of the CSA. “It is amazing to me,” said Popp of CSAs being a more reliable income than the markets. “At least I know I have X amount of dollars this year, so I can base everything from that point.”
In Cheshire, the Friends of Boulder Knoll Community Farm is new this year and off to a running start. The CSA planted their community beds on open space leased from the town. They hired Brenda Caldwell, a local CSA farmer, to help get it off the ground. Within a matter of weeks, they sold out all 35 shares in the group.
“The economy affected a couple of people who initially wanted a share, but then found that they couldn’t pay when their circumstances changed. But there is still so much more demand for CSA shares than we can supply at this stage,” said Kimberly Stoner, President of the CSA in Cheshire, in a recent e-mail. Stoner went on to say that Mill River Valley, a neighboring CSA in North Haven, referred their overflow to them.
“There is tremendous demand out there from people who want to know their farmers and develop a real relationship with a farm,” said Stoner. “I think that having a CSA in every town, a goal that has been expressed by CT NOFA, is quite possible.”
Many of the CSAs have also started to donate their leftovers. As with the CSA in Southport, they give their leftover produce to Operation Hope to provide meals in their homeless shelter. “Through a variety of channels,” said Bollman, “we’re reaching out to the community and sharing the produce.”
“Sharing,” agreed Duesing, “is part of what the CSA is all about.”
Photo courtesy of Local Harvest.