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Community Supported Agriculture – Membership is Sweet

CSA is a unique model of local agriculture whose roots reach back 30 years to Japan where a group of women concerned about the increase in food imports and the corresponding decrease in the farming population initiated a direct purchasing relationship between their group and local farms. This arrangement, called “teikei” in Japanese, translates to “putting the farmers’ face on food.”

A Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program is a type of cooperative. Most CSA farmers prefer that members pay for the season up-front, but some farmers will accept weekly or monthly payments. The growing season typically runs from late spring through early fall.

In March, my husband and I joined Honey Brook Organic Farm, one of the oldest operating organic farms in New Jersey. Each member is assigned a pick-up day to ensure that there is steady, manageable traffic flow in and out of the farm and it also helps the farm maintain a balanced harvest schedule.

At this CSA, some of the things are harvested daily by the farm staff and are waiting for you when you arrive. I was amazed at how robust the harvest calendar was, including lettuce, collards, kale, and summer squash in June, basil, carrots, cucumbers and tomatoes in July and cilantro, eggplant and watermelon in August. We needed to pick part of our bounty ourselves. Crops available at this farm on a pick your own basis include: strawberries, raspberries, snap peas, cherry tomatoes, flowers, snap beans, edamane soybeans and herbs.

On our first scheduled pick up day, I left my office to meet my husband at the farm. There is no better way to spend a gorgeous summer afternoon then picking fresh strawberries. Each with a quart sized basket, my husband and I set to work picking the largest, ripest berries we could find. Chandler strawberry plants are very well loved with growers because of their high yield, brilliant fruit color, and brilliant flavor. These were no exception! Unable to resist a taste, I popped a juicy berry in my mouth. Warm from the sun, it was unbelievably sweet.

Since the nutritional value of produce declines while on supermarket shelves, enjoying the freshest produce available during the summer months is more than just a tasty treat. Children are able to meet the farmers who grow their food and have the valuable experience of picking it themselves.

Another benefit is being challenged to use your weekly share of things that you may not traditionally pick up at the grocery store. For us, that included dandelion, garlic scapes and mizuna (a well loved Japanese leafy vegetable).

Why are CSA’s Vital?
They keep food dollars in the local community
They make a sense of social responsibility and stewardship of local land
They place “the farmers face on food” and increases understanding of how, where, and by whom our food is grown.

The number of CSAs in the United States has grown to over 1,000. Find a CSA near you by visiting localharvest.org localharvest.org

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