Want To Know Where Your Food Comes From? Buy Part Of A Farm

The New York Times reports that more and more people are buying shares of small farms, mostly on the coasts and around the Great Lakes region, which guarantee them a percentage of the season’s harvest. This “community-supported agriculture” model has exploded from fewer than 100 farms in the early 90s to nearly 1,500 in recent years. Helping out is optional, although we’re not sure the real farmers would appreciate our constant bitching about being in the sun. (I worked summers hoeing cotton fields in Texas, which is partly why I moved to NYC.)

Some of the farms highlighted in the article show the diversity of goods you can invest in, including flowers, fruits and veggies, and even grass-fed beef:

The Golden Earthworm Organic Farm, on 80 acres on the North Fork of Long Island, grew from 10 members in 2000 to about 1,300 this year, according to Matthew Kurek, one of the owners. About half of the members live in Queens, he said, and the farm delivers their weekly shares to six different sites there, mainly churches and community centers, 26 weeks a year. The farm grows arugula, strawberries and sugar snap peas in the spring; watermelon, eggplant and tomatoes in the summer; and broccoli, potatoes and carrots in the fall.

At the Cattleana Ranch in Omro, Wis., Thomas and Susan Wrchota offer grass-fed meat and organic produce through a community-supported arrangement. They have 55 members, and a seven-month meat membership costs $715.

Don’t expect to save money on these memberships, warns the article—the people who do it are looking for verifiable organic food, or want to help participate in sustainable agriculture, or just want to get their hands dirty.

Some shareholders said they found the arrangement a bargain compared to grocery shopping, while others considered it a worthwhile indulgence. Most agreed that the urge to buy and spend locally — to avoid the costs and environmental degradation that come with shipping and storage — was behind the decision to join. Shareholders can pick up their goods at the farm or at a store across the street.

“Shoppers Buy Slices of Farms “ [New York Times]

“Community Supported Agriculture” [USDA]
(Photo: Unhindered by Talent)


Edit Your Comment

  1. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    It is a bargain, but you’d better be a good cook. I love my CSA (“community supported agriculture”) group, but I give away or waste so much food because I work too much overtime, travel, and eat out too much. Totally stupid of me. But our CSA is the best in Houston, we get a stunning variety in the share, and the price is reasonable. Not to advertise… but if you are in the Houston area, the tremendously hardworking gal who runs Blue Star CSA is always looking for new members.

  2. pattm1966 says:

    We operate a CSA in Central IL and it is definitely the best way to get fresh, quality produce unless you grow it yourself. The NYT is correct; a CSA is not a cheap way to obtain food; you are paying for the freshness and quality, which comes at a premium price. However, the savings is that your produce doesn’t go bad as quickly.

    There is a commitment of time to prepare and eat what you get in a CSA. If you travel a lot or don’t have time to cook, it may not be the best choice for your lifestyle. I encourage our members to share what they can’t/don’t use with family or friends. Understanding that many people are unused to preparing meals from scratch (not out of a box), we provide recipes for our members.

  3. MonkeyMonk says:

    We’ve been part of a CSA outside Chicago for the past few years. It’s a little pricey but the quality and selection of fruits and vegetables is incomparable. You can’t beat the peace of mind of knowing exactly where your fruits and veggies are coming from and how they were farmed. I also love that the farm sends out a weekly newsletter with preparation suggestions and recipes for much of the more unique produce you’ll be receiving.

    I can’t imagine ever going back to regular grocery store produce.

  4. savvy999 says:

    I have been in a CSA for years. Absolutely, positively 1000% recommend it. Better tasting food, get to meet the people that grow/kill what you eat, and actually costs less. Our summer share (25 weeks) is only $500. Doesn’t provide everything, so have to supplement a little bit (esp fruit), but paying only $20 a week for a huge box of veggies? Can’t beat it.

    The share we participate in also has weekly specials from other farms, like honey, oil, meats, eggs, mushrooms, etc., so many weeks I don’t have to go to the grocery store at all.

    Again, I cannot stress how awesome this is all around. Find one near you and try it.

  5. I, and I imagine many members of my family, would love to be a part of a CSA. Does anyone know of a way for me to determine if there is one in my area? Does anyone know if there are any in the Philly metro area?

  6. @MonkeyMonk: Could you share the info for your CSA? I have been thinking about joining one in the Chicago area.

    Anyone else in the Chicago area who participates in a CSA is also welcome to message me with the info.


  7. @heavylee-again: A good place to start is LocalHarvest–check out the link under “Related Links” at the bottom of the post.

  8. MonkeyMonk says:

    @Spaceman Bill Leah:

    Sure. We’re get our weekly veggie share from Sandhill Organics located at Prairie Crossing. They have a drop-off point that is so close I can walk to pick up our box each week.

    Convenience of the drop-off location was a big factor in our decision to go with them but I’ve got nothing but praise for them. I’d recommend trying to find a CSA with a drop-off that is close and easy to get to. I believe Sandhill will let you start a new drop-off location if you can talk 9 other like-minded individuals into getting shares as well. :)

  9. Dervish says:

    @heavylee-again: In addition to what Chris said, try googling “philadelphia CSAs” – that helped me to find a comprehensive list in my area.

    We love our CSA. It definitely doesn’t save us money, but the fact that I’m spending so much money on it really motivates me to use EVERYTHING we get. It’s great seeing the progression of produce as the growing season advances, everything we get is delicious, and I get to try things I wouldn’t normally buy.

    It can be a lot of food, though – since there are only two of us, we buy a half share that we pick up every other week. We definitely pay a premium for it but it totally works for us.

  10. AutumnD says:

    My husband and I joined a CSA this year, and we get a veggie AND meat share, plus half a dozen eggs, for about $36 per week. That’s pretty much what I would pay in the grocery store, but everything is much fresher and I know exactly where it came from.

    I’ve also noticed that the farm fresh veggies keep for much longer than veggies I buy in the grocery store. I have heads of lettuce from over a month ago that are still crisp and fresh.

    And I really love that it forces me to eat seasonally, and find recipes that incorporate what’s growing. I definitely recommend buying a seasonal vegetable cookbook to help with that.

  11. Paul D says:

    @AutumnD: And the strawberries, you know, actually look and taste like strawberries rather than the apple-sized flavorless monstrosities we find in the corporate grocery store.

    Sorry, big ass out-of-season strawberries really freak me out.

    PS: The snozberries taste like snozberries. (Sorry, it had to be said.)

  12. Brian D says:

    We joined a CSA for the first time this year. It wasn’t cheap ($675 for 22? weeks), but as others have mentioned, the produce is much fresher than even the Whole Foods, and it’s opened us up to eating veggies that we wouldn’t have eaten otherwise. Turnips, beets, and my wife is even eating eggplant now. The key is to come up with creative recipes, which are conveniently available all over the internet, especially on some vegetarian recipe blogs. My kids (4 and 1) absolutely LOVE beet cake! (Think carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, just with beets.) Combining our CSA with our trips to the local farmers markets has all but eliminated trips to the grocery store, though we do still have to go there for things like condiments and such.

  13. autumnmist says:

    If you are interested in joining a CSA, you can look for one near you using Local Harvest. [www.localharvest.org]

    We are part of a Chicago-area CSA called Genesis Growers. So far a very positive experience.

    CSAs are also good for the farmers because you pay up front and hence help to buffer them from unpredictable factors like terrible weather (Midwest flooding anyone?) that can hurt their output for periods of time.

  14. hexychick says:

    @autumnmist: Beat me to it! That’s what I used to find one near me. This site also has a lot of information about them in general: [www.nal.usda.gov]

    I cannot see how this is a bad thing and I think it’s great to support local farming, especially now with the costs of food going up and up.

  15. picardia says:

    As someone else who used to hoe cotton in the summers, I would just like to take this moment to say that it really, really sucks.

  16. overbysara says:

    I was a CSA member a couple summers ago. I loved the experience. Absolutely loved it. We didn’t renew simply because we were so overloaded with vegetables all the time we got a bit weary of all the waste… but we probably just aren’t eating enough fresh veggies. we’ll do it again sometime in the future.

  17. @pattm1966: Which one do you operate? We were with Living Earth for a while, but she’s not doing it anymore. We’re growing quite a bit of stuff in our backyard, but we’ve been considering doing another CSA as we rather miss it. However, we’ve found few CSAs that deliver in Peoria, and I’m not driving to Bloomington to pick up a single box … all those emissions totally offset any good I’m doing the environment!

    And, obligatory commercial, I loved doing the CSA and I learned to both cook and eat a lot of new things. Like kohlrabi! (Far too much cabbage, though. Ugh.)

  18. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    Anyone who needs ideas with what to do with unfamiliar or “too many” veggies? Message me… I am a vegetarian and I have cookbooks out the “yin yang” as Mom puts it. I don’t mind recommending meat recipes, either… I kind of miss cooking like that.

    @Eyebrows McGee: Kohlrabi greens are some of the tastiest greens going. And you can only get fresh kohlrabi with the fresh greens attached from a local farmers market or CSA.

  19. theblackdog says:

    @Paul D: I agree. I recently bought strawberries from a farmers market, and they were so much tastier that I will not buy them from a supermarket again.

  20. Murph1908 says:

    Reminds me of my childhood in Indiana. My grandparents/uncles owned a farm. Each year, they would let us come out and pick as much corn as we wanted. We would leave with several garbage bags full. Mom would spend the whole next day shucking, kerneling, and freezing it, and we’d be set for a year.

    Our version of hoeing the cotton fields was de-tasseling the corn. That’s some hot work in jeans and gloves.

  21. rouftop says:

    We were a member of the Full Circle Farm CSA last year, and we loved it. Unfortunately we just moved to a new home and now would have to drive to pick up our veggie box, which doesn’t work for our schedule. So we switched to an organic delivery service, for now. Next year we’ll look for another CSA with a drop off spot closer to our home.

    You definitely have to have a “gawd I hate wasting food” mindset going in to get the most out of it, though. Week after week of broccoli, chard, kale, and potatoes can really make you want to eat out!

  22. autumnmist says:

    I also forgot to mention that I actually went to the two grocery stores in my area and wrote down the prices of the veggies and calculated how much it would cost us to switch to the CSA. Answer is $5 extra per week assuming we would buy conventional from the store. If we were buying organic from the store (a fair comparison since the CSA is organic and local), the CSA was equal in price if not $1 or $2 cheaper.

  23. Mom2Talavera says:

    I belong to a CSA.

    The first year I discovered
    that a half share was too much for my little family of 3. So the next year after that I just split it with a friend. Its delivered fresh to my door every week!I also get a cool newsletter that lets us know the status of the crops and other cool information.

  24. SinA says:

    Don’t forget, CSA’s help keep the traditionally agricultural landscapes sprawl free by helping them stay profitable. Closing the circle so your money goes to a farmer you know, allows more to stay in your community rather than.. China and Bentonville Arkansas.

    I’d say the obligatory “no offense if…” but I really don’t care this time.

  25. pattm1966 says:

    @Eyebrows McGee: Our farming operation is under the name Mitchell Farms Produce (website http://www.mitchellproduce.com). We used to run a delivery CSA, but coupled with gas and time involved, we changed over to where the member come to our home (we don’t live on the farm–my in-laws do). Are you in the Peoria area? Our farm is closer to Peoria than Bloomington.

  26. pattm1966 says:

    Something else to remember when shopping farmer’s markets or CSAs is that small farmers don’t have the luxury to spread their costs (and risks, too) out over thousand of acres. That’s why green beans in Jewel are $1.99/lb and mine are $3 or more. Economies of scale, just in reverse.

    Autumn D: the reason why your veggies from your CSA last so much longer is that they were just harvested then brought to you, with minimal handling. Commercial veggies can take up to 5 days to appear in the “fresh” section of a store; in that time they are in and out of chillers, sitting on hot docks and bumped and jostled a million times. Truly fresh is always better.

  27. Paramjodh Singh Gill says:

    how r u
    ryt now im in canada
    i want to buy a farm fr agriculture
    plz help me
    nd tell me the procedure plz