The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, February 12, 2010

 

Community Supported Agriculture: buy locally, eat globally

 

Veggies
Fresh fruits and vegetables come weekly to CSA members. (Photo by Nancy Pierce)

Grapes from Chile. Bell peppers grown in Mexico. Clementines from Spain. A walk through your local grocery store reveals produce that has traveled further than most of your fellow shoppers. Even items labeled “Product of the U.S.A.” may have spent more time journeying than the average person spent sleeping last night.

According to the University of Massachusetts College of Natural Sciences, food in the United States is shipped an average of 1,300 miles from farm to supermarket. Like most states, Massachusetts buys 85% of its food from some place else.

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) offers the opportunity to eat locally grown food, recapture the full taste of fresh produce, and support farming in the region.

CSA is a committed cooperative partnership between a farmer (or group of farmers) and consumers. Supporters pay for a share of the farmer’s harvest up front and the farmer in turn, gives each subscriber a portion of his/her yield in weekly installments throughout the growing season.

“The vegetables are very, very fresh,” Carlisle resident Debby Jancek, who has purchased a CSA share for many years from The Food Project in Lincoln, explained enthusiastically. “Everything tastes very different. You’ve never tasted carrots so sweet. They’re nothing like what you buy in the supermarket.”

Interest in CSA farms is growing by leaps and bounds. CSAs close to Carlisle report that due to demand they are increasing the number of shares they are offering this year.

Dave Dumaresq, who runs Farmer Dave’s in Dracut, will offer 440 shares this year, up from 67 shares in 2007, his first year.

Jamie Cruz, a third generation farmer at Springdell Farm in Littleton, started last year with 50 shareholders. The response was so positive that Springdell Farm will offer 150 shares this year.

Dragonfly Farm (Pepperell) and Lindentree Farm (Lincoln) will both offer more shares than last year and expect to sell out by early spring. Battle Road Farm (Concord) is experimenting with a CSA called First Root Farm, which has already sold all of its shares and has a waiting list.

CSA subscribers pay a specified amount before the growing season, usually between $400 for smaller shares and $700 for larger shares. Some CSAs allow payment in installments throughout the season. “Having the money at the beginning of the season when we incur most of the farm expenses is extremely helpful,” Sue Ventura of Dragonfly Farm observed.

Most local CSAs disperse their products on a weekly basis during the active growing season, from late May through October. Many CSA farms supplement their outdoor crops with produce grown in greenhouses and some offer cold season shares as well. While some CSAs are certified organic, most strive to use sustainable farming practices through diverse planting and limited use of pesticides.

Products offered through CSAs are not limited to vegetables. Some include flowers, wine, meat, cheese and eggs. Others include fruit in their shares or offer fruit as an add-on share at an additional price.

“Since we know how many customers we need to service, we know exactly the right amount to grow and harvest on a weekly basis,” Ventura explained. “The CSA shareholders share the risk of farming with us. They understand that some years there will be great bounties, while (in) other years, crop failures can occur.”

Carlisle residents Susan Mills and Nancy Pierce subscribed to the World PEAS Cooperative last year. World PEAS works with a network of local immigrant and refugee farmers, providing agricultural and business training and coordinating CSA farm shares. Along with summertime favorites like tomatoes and peppers, World PEAS farmers grow ethnic vegetables from their homelands.

“We split a share with another family,” Mills described. “We picked up our share every week in Concord. You get a big box of things, all of these unusual greens. Many times we’d come home and try to figure out what everything was.”

“I was so sick of my own cooking,” Mills confided. “I really enjoyed trying out new things. And with the whole training component (for the farmers), it really feels like you are helping make a difference.”

“And all of it is ever so fresh,” Pierce added. “We made a lot of stir frys and frittatas. And there were all these unusual things: garlic scapes and Chinese spinach and pea tendrils.”

All CSAs have their own unique characteristics. Jancek explained that in addition to picking up a prepared box at the farm in Lincoln, she would also spend time in the fields harvesting. “When you go to pick up your box, you can spend an hour to an hour-and-a-half picking your own from the garden. I would always come home with a fresh bunch of flowers. There are herbs for tea, garnish or to add to meals. You will spend some more time at home washing and cleaning the vegetables and packaging them to store,” Jancek warned, “so it does take some planning.”

The opportunity to meet the customer is one of the big upsides for CSA farmers. Dumaresq, of Farmer Dave’s, explained, “I’m growing to feed people rather than just planting crops.” Cruz, of Springdell, agrees. “It’s much more enjoyable meeting the people you’re feeding. Everyone comes every week to the farm and you get to know them. It’s really fun.”

Most CSAs publish a weekly newsletter for shareholders. “Every week, along with the produce, they publish a newsletter that gives ideas and recipes for cooking [the produce],” Mills explained. “It would tell you about what’s growing this week and what you’re getting in your box.” The World PEAS newsletter also provides a profile of one of their farmers each week along with a detailed description of one or more of the week’s vegetables.

“When the tomato blight hit last summer, the newsletter explained why we would see so few tomatoes. It really personalizes the whole thing,” Mills continued.

Jancek also found the newsletter she received weekly from The Food Project very helpful. “The newsletter was always well written. It would talk about the week’s labors in the garden, what’s growing and what’s in season.”

“There would always be a recipe or two,” Jancek continued. “And I found that I would be interested in more so I would go to Epicurious.com to find other ways to use the vegetables.”

“I’m not a gardener,” Jancek confessed. “I find it very therapeutic to be out in the sun, in the field, harvesting raspberries or corn, tomatoes or beans.”

How it started

The idea for Community Supported Agriculture originated in Japan 40 years ago when a group of women, concerned by an increase in imported foods and food prices, devised a way to improve their connection to local farmers. Troubled by what they saw as a decrease in local farming, they formed a direct purchasing relationship with farmers. They called the idea “Teiki,” or “putting the farmer’s face on food.”

A similar cooperative farming system was successful in Europe and soon the method was modified to meet the unique demands of farming in New England. Farmers called the new approach “Community Supported Agriculture” and by 1986 both the Temple/Wilton Community Farm in New Hampshire and Indian Line Farm, Massachusetts delivered harvest shares to subscribers.

From The Farm News, the e-newsletter of The Food Project’s CSA

Turnips

Few would claim turnips as a favorite, yet there is something special about these vitamin-C-filled roots glowing white and purple, fresh from the ground and smelling of their distinctive mustardy bite.

Oven-braised turnips

2 or more turnips, peeled and cut into half-inch wedges
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 head garlic, separated and mashed
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 cups beef or vegetable broth
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon rubbed sage
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano

salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Place turnips in a roasting pan, coat with the olive oil and spread out in a single layer. Roast for 15 minutes in the center of the oven. Flip them over, rotate the pan and add the garlic. Roast for 5 minutes. Flip them again, tuck the bay leaves under the turnips, add the stock and herbs and roast for 10 minutes. The liquid will be mostly absorbed. Salt and pepper to taste.

From the World PEAS Cooperative Newsletter

Asian greens

Pea tendrils, baby bok choy, tatsoi and water spinach are all types of greens popular in many types of Asian cooking. These greens can be enjoyed in many ways from raw to sautéed, in soups and stir frys.

Spring veggie stir fry

Oil for frying
Baby bok choy, rinsed and sliced lengthwise
1 cup peas, rinsed
1 bunch garlic chives or scallions, rinsed and sliced
Any other vegetables you have on hand (bell peppers, carrots, broccoli)
1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon grated ginger
Soy sauce

Heat oil in a pan. Sauté ginger and garlic until fragrant, about one minute. Add vegetables (add heartier carrots and broccoli first, if you are using them). Cover to steam lightly, or leave to fry open, until bright and just tender. Drizzle with soy sauce at the end. Serve over rice.

For a complete list see www.localharvest.org.

Advantages for CSA farmers

  • Payments arrive at the beginning of the season, enabling farmers to pay for seeds, water, equipment maintenance and labor as needed.
  • Marketing efforts can be focused early in the year, before the long days in the field begin.
  • Revenues are increased while decreasing time and energy spent marketing (e.g., traveling to farmer’s markets).
  • Farmers get to know the people who will eat the food they grow.

Advantages for shareholders

  • Consumers enjoy fresh food at competitive prices and get exposed to new vegetables and new ways of cooking.
  • Buyers can usually visit the farm.
  • Shareholders learn about the demands and constraints of farming, how the seasons and weather affect which foods thrive and are available.
  • Buyers help the environment by decreasing packaging, fuel consumption from shipping and pollution.

© 2010 The Carlisle Mosquito