What’s a CSA you ask? A CSA is a form of agriculture in which small farmers offer “shares” to people who want locally grown food.
In commercial farming very little of the money paid for food in supermarkets ends up in the pockets of farmers. According to the City Fresh website commercial farmers only see 5-15% of what a consumer pays for produce. The farmers involved in City Fresh see 81% of what consumers pay. For farms that operate their own CSA, that percentage would be even higher.
My college roommate, Erin, and her family operate a CSA in Connecticut called Fire Ring Farm. I asked her what she thought the best and worst parts of running a CSA were. Their biggest challenge right now is sharing kale with a mystery animal which is part of the larger challenge of not being completely in control of things like weather and wildlife and pests; they all impact quality and quantity of the produce. The best part is when the families who have purchased shares come through with their kids to learn and contribute. You can find out more about Fire Ring Farm here.
There seem to be a few different kinds of CSAs. There are those, like Fresh Fork and City Fresh (see below) that gather from numerous local farmers and then bring the produce as close to the subscribers as possible. Both of these organizations have hundreds of happy customers. There are individual farms that provide shares for a smaller number of people but all of their goods come directly from that one farm. Maggie’s Farm is an example of this kind of CSA. They limit their number of subscribers to 20. Maggie’s actually allows you to buy a garden bed and they will plant it with the vegetables you request and pick them for you. More about Maggie’s here. These CSAs typically require people to come to them or might have another location in addition to the actual farm. Some also sell food at farmer’s markets.
If you’re new to the whole CSA thing here are three benefits of investing in one:
- You’re getting great quality food that is in season. Fresh Fork provides recipes in their newsletter each week so if you don’t know what to do with parsnips, they’ll help you figure it out or you could always ask Pinterest. Check out this board on seasonal cooking (add board).
- Your money is going right back into your local economy; supporting small farmers and encouraging sustainable business practices.
- Finally, by investing in local farmers you’re significantly reducing your carbon footprint. (Click here to find out what the heck a carbon footprint is.) In this case you’re reducing your footprint because far less fossil fuels are used in delivering food from within 75 miles than from California, Mexico, or China. In most cases small farmers take better care of their animals and their land than the commercial giants so the animals and local environment are better off which means we’re all better off 🙂 (yes, I hug trees).
My family just signed up for our third season with Fresh Fork (a week after it started) and paid about $190. Every month until October we’ll pay $93. If you want and are able to, you also have the option of paying for the whole share upfront and don’t have to worry about it until the next season starts; that’s over $500 but is actually cheaper in the long run by $3/week. Here’s what came in the bag we picked up today:
- a whole chicken (we’ll be eating one of the chickens pictured below in the near future)
- 1 head of broccoli
- 1 bunch of spinach
- garlic scapes
- 1 qt of strawberries
- 1 bulb of kohlrabi
- 1 bunch of radishes
For their explanation of the kinds of farms they get food from, click here. I really like the fact that Fresh Fork has the omnivore option, thus the chicken, but you can get a vegetarian share if you want. Another perk is that they have extra stuff on hand when you pick up your bag. If you want some bacon, sausage, cheese, milk, honey, granola, coffee (you get the point) just ask and they’ll add it to your bill. You can either pay there or online when you feel like it. At pick up today we met one of the makers of Bearded Buch, a local company that makes kombucha, good stuff and really good for you. The cheapest place to buy Bearded Buch is… that’s right, at the Fresh Fork truck. Check out their site here.
Giving back: Fresh Fork is working to bring more fresh, local food to schools. According to their website, they’ve held “Farm to School” weeks in Hudson, Independece, and Tallmadge. I think this is very cool but I’d love to see them target schools in Cleveland or Akron or Lorain. Hudson, Independence, and Tallmadge are all pretty solidly middle class communities where residents are more likely to regularly eat and have access to fresh produce than their more urban neighbors. (Check back next week for a post on urban food politics and problem solvers in the Cleveland area.) I’m still glad they’re doing it though – healthy food never hurts after all.
I recently found out about City Fresh and love what they’re doing! Located in Oberlin, OH in collaboration with The George Jones Farm, City Fresh is focused on getting “as much healthy produce onto the kitchen tables of the most possible people regardless of income.” At City Fresh, a family struggling to make ends meet might qualify for the discounted weekly price of $16.00 compared to the regular price of $28.00. They also offer single shares for those who don’t cook for a family every day. A few other great things about City Fresh:
- You order 1 week in advance so there’s no high payment up front or monthly payments; you just pay as you go and if you need that money for something else one week, you have the flexibility to make that choice.
- You can use Ohio Direction/SNAP/EBT cards when you place your order on the phone or send it through the mail (I know, who does snail mail payments these days…).
- As mentioned above, 81% of the money City Fresh charges ends up with the farmers themselves. Makes sense to me.
- Food that is not picked up each week is donated, yup, they give it away.
I like these guys 🙂 but I also like getting a happy chicken in my bag… what’re you gonna do. There are lots of opportunities to volunteer all spelled out on their website.
I’m a little surprised that there are so many CSAs in the Cleveland area. Who knew… that’s exciting though. I like this whole urban farming movement a lot. I think I shall visit some of these places in the near future. For a thorough but not complete listing of CSAs in Northeast Ohio click here.
If you don’t live near Cleveland click here to find a CSA near you and help support local agriculture!