Supporting Farmers, One Vegetable at a Time

Imagine receiving 9 to 12 different farm-fresh organic fruits and vegetables each week, every June - November. And it costs less than $25 dollars per week for a family of four, or for one vegetarian couple. You maybe thinking, it sounds to good be true.

But, this is possible if you join a Community Supported Agriculture - known as a CSA. A CSA is a partnership between a local farmer and neighborhood. Each winter or early spring, the local farmer sells "shares" of his crop prior to the harvest. Typically, one share provides a family of four with vegetables for one week. Some CSAs provide flowers, fruit, meat, honey, eggs, and dairy products for at an additional cost.

In return for an upfront payment (sometimes called "seed money"), shareholders receive a portion of the harvest weekly throughout the growing season. Farmers deliver the crops to a central distribution center in the neighborhood, where the family picks up their share at an allotted time. For example, members of the Yorkville/Carnegie Hill CSA, on Manhattan's Upper East Side, must retrieve their share at the designated location in that neighborhood between 4 - 7 pm every Tuesday during the season. The composition of the weekly delivery will vary as the season progresses, depending on what vegetables are ready for harvest.

As "big industry" claims more small family farms, the link created between a community and a local farmer by the CSA promotes sustainable, local agriculture. This model lowers the farmers' marketing costs, since they already have guaranteed customers who have paid upfront. And since the harvest is sent directly to the customer, storage costs for the farmer decrease, and the product is fresher for the customer. It is a win - win situation. The upfront payments allow the farmer to provide for their family in the off-season, purchase seeds and tools, fix equipment and pay employees needed to plant crops. With CSA's financial support, farmers can afford to grow more variety and rotate crops, which reduces soil-borne diseases, decreases incidence of pests and helps maintain high soil quality leading to less wasted harvest and greater profits.

Members of the CSA also benefit. First, they receive the freshest vegetables available as the middle man is eliminated. Secondly, members pay less than market price, as farmers have no advertising, processing, packaging or storage costs to cover. Members receive an extensive variety, as well, since farmers can afford to care for many different crops with support from their CSA. The increase in variety promotes a balanced diet providing many different vitamins and minerals, which ultimately promote health.

Even if the upfront costs sound too expensive initially, various payment options exist depending on the CSA you chose to join. Most accept food stamps, installment plans, sliding-scale share fees, work shares and scholarship shares. In fact, many CSAs in the city require that each member work a few hours during the season. They accommodate people with disabilities, or those who cannot get to the distribution site.

Keep in mind half-shares are available if you live alone or if you do not want to fully commit your first year. CSAs not only provide quality produce at a reasonable price, but they promote community, healthy food choices and agricultural awareness in urban settings. To find a CSA near you, go to www.justfood.org


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