Community supported agriculture (CSA) is alive and well and thriving in Virginia and the rest of the nation. As farmers start to prepare their land for the upcoming growing season, CSA shareholders are looking forward to another bountiful, organic harvest from local producers.
Community supported agriculture is not a new idea, but it has been gaining momentum since the mid 1980s, when only a few dozen farms were involved in the practice. Today, the number has grown to more than 2,200 across the country, according to Local Harvest, an organic and local food web site that maintains a nationwide directory of small farms, farmers markets and other local food sources. Essentially, CSA consists of a group of individuals, called shareholders, who pledge to support a farm operation through a financial arrangement. Growers and consumers provide mutual support and share the risks and benefits of food production. In return, the backers receive shares in the farm’s bounty throughout the growing season. Usually it consists of weekly deliveries of the producer’s harvest.
The benefits of CSA are many. Growers receive upfront money and better prices for their crops, they are assured of financial security and stability and they are freed from the burden of marketing their products, since they already have a group of vested consumers. Shareholders, however, do take the same risks as the farmers, so in the case of bad weather or blight, the return on their investment could be severely reduced.
The Rural Virginia Market is typical of most CSA operations. Member David Fitzgerald is a retired police officer who began farming eight years ago. “It’s a dream to show that it can still be done, that it can be sustainable,” he said. “That we can be good to Mother Earth and Mother Earth can be good to us.” Fitzgerald grows a variety of organic vegetables, raises chickens for meat and eggs and produces his own honey from dozens of beehives.
Debra Stoneman is the owner of Byrd Farm, whose primary crop is vegetables. “There’s a lost connection between the eater and the grower,” she said. “The CSAs are trying to reconnect them.”
Fitzgerald and Stoneman are just two of approximately five dozen CSAs listed with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. “We’ve seen a tremendous increase in the whole `buy local’ phenomenon,” said Elaine Lidholm, spokesperson for the department. “I think the interest started right after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. People became more conscious about where their food was coming from, who was growing it, how they were growing it and food safety, that kind of thing,” she continued.
Barbara Haber, author of From Hardtack to Home Fries: An Uncommon History of American Cooks and Meals, said CSAs remind her of the communes from the 1960s, but are better run because experienced farmers are involved. “Consumers feel good about themselves for supporting small producers and for having found a way to eat fresh and wholesome products from a known source,” she said.
The idea of locally grown was recently highlighted when First Lady Michelle Obama turned over soil for a White House vegetable garden. Local greenhouses and nurseries are indicating that interest in backyard gardening is on the rise.
As the growing season approaches, the CSAs are actively selling subscriptions and shares for the spring, summer and fall harvest. However, as the number of local CSAs has increased, so too has the number of those interested in their products and many farms are only able to offer shares to previous supporters. With the current economic crisis, people are thinking of ways to save money or at least, spend it wisely. Getting good, locally produced food encourages more at-home cooking, canning, preserving and freezing, allowing the bounty to last longer.
Participating in a CSA is a way to support local farmers, learn about the challenges and opportunities involved in food production, and provide a sense of community as well as the pleasure of growing your own vegetables without having to do the backbreaking work.
To find a CSA farm near you, visit Local Harvest and enter your zip code. But act quickly if you want to participate for 2009. Subscriptions may be limited.
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The following is a popular recipe shared from the Rural Virginia Market.
1 small turnip, peeled and grated
½ small onion, finely chopped
1 – 15 ounce package refrigerated pie crusts
2 tablespoons butter, melted
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine turnip and onion in a small bowl and toss with salt and pepper. Unfold pie crusts and press out fold lines. Cut out 30 rounds with 2-inch round cutter. Place 1 tsp. turnip mix on half of each round. Fold the other half over. Press edges together with a fork to seal. Bake at 375 degrees for 15-17 minutes, until lightly browned.
Optional: You can add finely chopped bacon bits or ham to the filling.
- Is Local Food Safer Than Industrial Food? [Food Safety] (consumerist.com)
- Check out local CSAs (greenerloudoun.wordpress.com)
- Local, Organic Produce Through a CSA Program (natural-products.suite101.com)