Community supported agriculture

Taking control and ownership of our food system

Representative CSA farm weekly full (or premium) share (Photo provided — Emma Lecarie; Cornell Small Farms Program)

In this age of global markets and marketing, more often than not, the food we eat is grown on large industrial farms, then shipped across the country, from Central or South America or overseas to huge distribution centers where it’s sorted, packaged, processed and then trucked to chain supermarkets, convenience stores and fast-food outlets.

We seldom think about the environmental impacts resulting from expanded mechanization and transportation of foodstuffs over great distances, of the ecological consequences of large-scale mono-cropping of food with intensive use of pesticides or the impacts that food globalization has on our health (e.g. two-thirds of Americans are now considered overweight or obese).

As a region, northern New York has lost way too many family farms. We continue to lose dollars that might otherwise remain in our rural communities. And too many of us are completely out of touch with the efforts and the productivity of our local farmers and growers.

Cornell Cooperative Extension promotion campaigns and initiatives, like Adirondack Harvest (www.adirondackharvest.com), encourage consumers to support sustainable, local, small-scale agricultural entrepreneurism and, in doing so, help safeguard our agricultural land and heritage, improve our quality of life and strengthen the economies of our rural communities. We invite growers and consumers alike to explore and anticipate how the decisions they make today might affect the future, and to make choices that are equitable, economically and ecologically sound, and that promote responsibility and pride, strong and sustainable community development and environments where economic development opportunities can flourish.

Community supported agriculture (CSA) has become a popular way for consumers to buy local, seasonal food directly from area farmers. CSA farms are direct-to-consumer marketing programs in which a farmer offers a given number of “shares” of the farm’s projected harvest to the public. Consumer-members buy shares or, in some instances, fractions of a share. You pay for it up front, before the growing season begins, an arrangement that assigns the risks and rewards of the farming season to both the farmer and the consumer.

Pre-season direct sales of shares provides the farm operators with working capital (seed money) in advance, relieving them of much of their marketing burden during the busy, often demanding and unpredictable growing season. In return, members receive a (multi-)season-long supply of high-quality locally-grown food (i.e. produce made available at the peak of freshness and nutrient content).

CSA farmers often select plant varieties and animal breeds specifically for their superior flavor and quality. Participants get to know the growers, visit the farm that supplies their food, ask questions, and rest assured in the knowledge that they’re helping to provide local small farm managers and the families they support with a sustainable income.

If the upfront outlay of cash seems steep, consider how much you spend at the grocery store every week on similar items; then compare. Most likely, you’ll find the membership price is pretty hard to beat. Keep in mind, too, that joining a CSA is a commitment to better health, strengthening your community and protecting our rural environment, not just an economic decision. Occasionally, a CSA farm will accept monthly SNAP payments for CSA membership. Others may accept work as partial payment.

CSA participants usually pick up their shares weekly, at pre-determined locations. Typically, a weekly CSA share consists of a provision of farm-grown produce, but other farm products may be included: i.e. herbs, flowers, eggs, meat, dairy products, grains, maple syrup, honey, jams or jellies, and/or other homemade and/or preserved farm products. Some livestock farmers offer standalone CSAs for meat. Many CSA farmers will, from time to time, offer one or two new and different crops or food products to see how well people like them and how well they grow. Don’t be surprised if your weekly CSA share occasionally contains an unusual and delicious surprise (or something that you might never have been compelled to buy before).

When you join a CSA, you establish independence over the way your food is grown, processed and traded. You make a positive, proactive statement in support of small, sustainable, resilient, transparent, local farms and in opposition to the giant, multinational, industrial agri-foods complex that has all but monopolized our food supply, production and distribution.

To find CSA farms near you, go to adirondackharvest.com and search CSA; or localharvest.org and search CSA near you (enter your hometown or ZIP code). Review the information to find CSA farms that best suit your needs. Call, text or email farms for current share prices, pick-up times and locations, length of season and products available. Then contact the farm(s) of your choice to join.

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