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Buy local: it's your personal farmer

It’s food as fresh as you can get it because there are no middle men- no supermarkets, no grocers- those who buy through Community-supported agriculture farms (CSAs) are getting their food straight from their farmer.

Growers sell prepaid “shares” of their harvest directly to consumers and their numbers are growing. Today, in the US, there are around 1,500 farms that provide their “members” or “shareholders” with weekly allotments of produce, fruits, eggs, milk, coffee or any sort of different farm products.

Paula Lukats, New York City Program Manager for CSA program Just Food, says the biggest hurdle for joining a CSA is getting past our obsession with looks.

Paula Lukats: “It is frustrating to me when people are really intent on food looking a certain way regardless of how it tastes. I find that a little bit frustrating. CSA is a direct relationship between the farmer and the consumer. It allows the farmer to get inputs at the beginning of the season when the members pay for the food when they need it, when they need to buy seed. They would need to take out loans ordinarily and try to make that back during the season. Part of it is sharing the risk. Farming is a risky business so partially the consumers are taking on some of that risk with the farmer so if they don’t have a great year you might not get as much, if they have a really great year you’re also sharing in the bounty as well.” 

faircompanies: Is it a program that has been copied?

Paula Lukats: There are CSAs all over the country. It’s an idea that originally came from Europe and Japan. In Japan it’s called Teikei (Literally translated means “partnership” or “cooperation”. The philosophical translation is “food with the farmer’s face on it.”) It was first in the US in 1986 I believe with Indian Line Farm in Massachusetts and then has grown. The city (NYC) is a bit unique. In most CSAs the people go to the farm to pick up their share, but because most city folks can’t get access to the farm the farmer drives the food into a central distribution place in the city and there are 41 of those distribution places in the city.

Why is it important to have regional farms?

The predominant way that food is grown in the country is the industrialized mono-cropping way and it’s not good for the environment, it’s not good for people’s health, it’s not good for the economy. So this is a way of protecting the land, of protecting family farms and their communities and also getting really quality produce into the city and into neighborhoods where they don’t really have access to local, organic produce.

So it’s not just about health, it’s also about the environment?

It’s both. It really supports small family farmers who want to keep farming their land. It’s difficult to find markets sometimes. So it gives them a market, it gives them the support that their farm needs, but it also allows city folks to get quality produce and make that connection with where their food is coming from. And to know their farmer and to be able to ask questions and to really feel an affinity for where their food is coming from which we’ve lost a lot of.

What about just buying organic?

A lot of the organic is now farmed on large mono-cropping farms, which you know, is an improvement but it’s still, we want to support family farms that are growing a real diversity of produce. Some of the CSAs provide 40 different types of vegetables and they may be growing 20 different varieties of any one vegetable. They grow a lot of heirloom varieties, a lot of ones that aren’t bred to travel well, aren’t bred to look pretty in a market, but they taste good and they’re healthy and they have a lot of nutrients.

What’s so bad about mono-cropping?

Mono-cropping is just really hard on the environment, hard on land. It just really takes a lot of inputs to maintain land growing one crop over time. So it takes a lot of chemical fertilizer because it doesn’t leave anything in the soil that can be used year alter year. So it just puts a huge amount of stress on the land. So growing a diversity of produce, farmers can rotate crops which minimizes pests, it adds nutrients back into the soil, use plants that take different things out of the soil to really help not have to use artificial fertilizers and artificial pest control.

Are CSAs successful for the farmers as well as the consumers?

It’s definitely beneficial for both. The farmers are able to have a steady market that they know what they’re growing. When they come down with their truck full of produce they know they’re going home with an empty truck rather than at a farmers market if they don’t have a good day they might go home with a lot of what they brought down. They can plan ahead because they know how many people they’re growing for and they get their inputs earlier in the season when they need it. For the consumers, they’re really getting a collection with the land and wonderful, healthy produce, as fresh as you can get that the farmers picked the day before, the morning of distribution. It’s as fresh as you can get it and also really have a community aspect as well.