Small farms. The name says it all. Modest. Practical. Connected to the earth and the local population. Small farms were once the backbone of this country.
Small-scale farmers grow a diversity of fresh produce; often using very few or no chemicals. They raise livestock avoiding added hormones and antibiotics. They sell their goods at local markets and directly to neighbors, friends, and other members of their community.
They’re a self-reliant lot; sometimes stubbornly independent. They love the outdoors. They’re not afraid to work 80 hours a week. And they’re content to reap fair and honest compensation for fair and honest work. They’re creative, resourceful, resilient agricultural entrepreneurs who love their land and the food they grow on it; food that’s the finest, the freshest, and the best that money can buy.
As consumers, we have a choice. We can buy our food from small, local, independent growers who sell their own home-grown produce and meat direct to the public and enjoy the freshest, highest-quality food possible, or we can buy food produced on industrial, corporate, factory farms; and support stockholders, middlemen, and a soulless, faceless, global, industrialized-food-system.
Where Does Our Food Come From? And What are the Impacts?
We live in an age of global markets and marketing where, more often than not, we eat food grown on large industrial farms; then shipped across the country, or from Central or South America, or overseas, to huge distribution centers, where it’s sorted, packaged, processed, and then trucked to chain supermarkets, convenient stores, and fast food outlets. We seldom think about the environmental impacts resulting from expanded mechanization and transportation of foodstuffs over great distances; of the ecological consequences of large-scale mono-cropping of food with intensive use of pesticides; or the impacts that food globalization has on our health (e.g. 2/3 of Americans are considered overweight or obese); or the tons and tons of food packaging waste derived from non-compostable, non-degradable single-use food containers.
And, as people become less and less concerned about where their food comes from, and as modern, intensive-agricultural methods continue to strip away increasing amounts of nutrients from the soil in which the food we eat is grown, farmers become less and less able to provide us with clean, fresh, wholesome, nutritious food. Each successive generation of fast-growing, pest-resistant food crops is actually less-beneficial than the one grown before.
More and more people are coming to recognize this. And some are ready to share agricultural responsibilities with active local farmers.
National CSA Day
Feb. 28 is National CSA day, an annual celebration of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). It’s an opportunity to celebrate and invest in local CSA farmers and the high-quality food they work so hard to produce. It’s also a day to reflect upon where and how you source your food and how that affects your health, your community, and the planet.
What is CSA?
CSA is a business model for small, diversified vegetable farms (although some livestock farmers offer stand-alone CSAs for meat). CSA farms offer direct-to-consumer marketing programs in which a farmer offers a given number of ‘shares’ of the farm’s projected harvest to the public. Consumer-members buy a share or, in some instances, a fraction of a share; paying for it up front, before the growing season begins; an arrangement which assigns the risks and rewards of the farming season to both the farmer and the consumer.
Pre-season direct sales of shares provide farm operators with working capital (seed money, literally) in advance, and relieve them of much of their marketing burden during the busy, often demanding and unpredictable growing season. In return, members receive a (multi-)season-long supply of high-quality locally-grown food; usually vegetables and fruit made available at the peak of freshness and nutrient content.
CSA farmers often select plant varieties and animal breeds specifically for their superior flavor and quality. Participants get to know the growers, visit the farm that supplies their food, ask questions, and rest assured in the knowledge that they’re helping to provide local small farm managers and the families they support with a sustainable income.
If the upfront outlay of cash seems steep, consider how much you spend at the grocery store every week on similar items; then compare. Most likely, you’ll find the membership price is pretty hard to beat. Keep in mind too, that joining a CSA isn’t just an economic decision. It’s a commitment to better health, strengthening your community, and protecting our rural environment.
Occasionally, a CSA farm will accept monthly SNAP payments for CSA membership. Others may accept work as partial payment.
CSA members usually pick up their shares weekly, at pre-determined locations. Typically, a weekly CSA share consists of a provision of farm-grown produce, but other farm products may be included (e.g. herbs, flowers, eggs, meat, dairy products, grains, maple syrup, honey, jams or jellies, and/or other homemade and/or preserved farm products).
Many CSA farmers will, from time to time, offer one or two new and different crops or food products to see how well people like them and how well they grow. So don’t be surprised if your weekly CSA share occasionally contains an unusual and delicious surprise.
Finding Local CSAs
To find CSA farms near you, go to adirondackharvest.com and click on the browse button at the top of the page. Then click on ‘business type’; scroll down and click on CSA. Or go to localharvest.org/csa
Cornell Cooperative Extension and Adirondack Harvest encourage consumers to learn about the agricultural practices of our farming neighbors; support local, sustainable, small-scale agricultural entrepreneurism; and advocate for farm-friendly regulations in local communities.
Photo at top: Tangleroot Farm is a 20-acre organic CSA farm in Essex whose shareholder members receive a weekly selection of 6 or 7 organic vegetable selections and much more. Photo Credit: Tangleroot Farm.