Thursday, June 16, 2011

Community Supported Agriculture

For the last three years, we have been part of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) through Garden Gate Farm. A CSA is an arrangement made with a farmer (usually well before their crops are planted) to purchase a share of their harvest. Most often, a variety of produce is included in a CSA, but sometimes other farm products such as honey, eggs, bread, meat, etc. are included as well.

CSAs are becoming more and more popular and have numerous benefits for both the farmer, you the consumer, and the environment. Farmers benefit by having the money they need upfront to cover some of their costs. They have security in knowing the price and quantity at which their crops will be purchased. They also are able to focus marketing efforts of their food before their busy seasons begin. Consumers benefit by getting the freshest produce possible at a low price. A variety of items are available throughout the growing season and consumers can try different foods (most CSAs provide their members with recipes). And, anytime you buy local you decrease your food's carbon footprint in the reduced miles traveled from farm to your table. Additionally, we've witnessed the ways our CSA farm is committed to sustainable, organic and biodynamic practices.

The relationship between the farmer and the consumer is a key component of a successful CSA. We know exactly where our food comes from and how it is grown. Our family has visited "our" farm and has had the opportunity to help at the farm each year. Our farmers know our family and they frequently ask for our feedback. There is some shared risk associated with a CSA. The consumer is basically purchasing a portion of the farmer's crop. If the growing season is poor, the consumer will get less food. Again, this is where relationship comes in. You must be able to trust that your farmer did the best he or she could and that the next season will be better.

Our experience the last 3 years with Garden Gate Farm has been nothing less than excellent. We have always received plenty of beautiful, fresh produce. In September we paid $500 for this season's CSA. That included discounts for paying early and participating in Field Clean-Up Day at the farm. Our $500 went toward a Regular Season Share which is meant to feed a family of four. Each week, we receive about a 1 1/9 bushel bushel box of vegetables, fruits, and herbs. Depending on the time of year, it may be a little more and it may be a little less. The season starts mid June and lasts 14-16 weeks. That comes out to $31-36 a week for a bushel of organic, sustainably grown produce.

Garden Gate Farm is the third CSA of which we have taken part. Our first CSA was not a good experience, which is why I highly recommend that you get references and ask a lot of questions before joining a CSA. Our second CSA was with Swier Family Farm. We also had a wonderful experience with them but decided to try Garden Gate Farm since their delivery site was much closer to our home.

Today was our first delivery of the season from Garden Gate Farm. As the season progresses, the amount of food we receive will increase, but today we received rhubarb, lettuce, chard, garlic scapes, tea leaves, basil, parsley, kale, scallions, popcorn, and tomatoes (our farmers extend their growing season with greenhouses and raised beds).

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