Over the last two decades, CSA’s or Community Supported Agriculture have become a popular way for consumers to buy local, seasonal food directly from the farmer. These farms operate by offering a preloaded bag or box of fresh produce, sometimes picked just hours before, to the public each year for a monthly fee.
Nestled in the Hopewell Valley area of central New Jersey, Honey Brook Organic Farm is one of the nation’s largest CSA farms. Jim Kinsel and Sherry Dudas, owners and husband and wife, run the Pennington farm. These two have combined their love of community and organic farming to grow over 60 types of crops and 350 varieties, including many unusual and heirloom vegetables.
But Honey Brook puts a fresh spin on CSAs. Their members come to the farm and are able to choose from several fresh varieties each week; sort of a mix and match. Items are carefully labeled so they can choose a number of items or all of one item if they wish.
Having access to the farm is a way in which their members become acquainted with the farm and the owners, can pick fresh produce and flowers from the fields and utilize the farm as an outdoor classroom for their children, certain that they are safe from harmful chemicals. This helps establish a connection to the land and to the farmer who is a member of the community.
Just north of Atlanta is Riverview Farm specializing in organic produce, Berkshire pork and grass-fed beef. Riverview, owned by Wes and Charlotte Swancey, is operated more along the lines of your typical CSA farm. Providing a bridge between the farmer and the consumer, produce is delivered each week to specified locations and picked up by the members.
The benefit to the consumer is obvious. Locally grown, organic produce is fresher and healthier because it travels a shorter distance from farm to table with little nutritional loss. The environment also benefits from less pollution by chemical fertilizers and pesticides and far fewer vehicle emissions.
And the farmer benefits as well. Knowing what and how much they need to plant early in the season means they can spend less time marketing and more time in the field managing their land.
But there is a factor of ‘shared risk’ involved. Sometimes the growing season isn’t as kind and unforeseen disasters can take place, such as the tornado that struck Riverview Farm in the not too distant past. If that is too much of an unknown for you, you can purchase fresh, organically grown produce at your local farmers market and still be supportive.
Another way to support local farming is belonging to a Community Agriculture Partnership like Rainbeau Ridge in Bedford Hills, NY. As owner Lisa Schwartz explains a CAP is different from a CSA in that a membership is purchased which allows partners the opportunity to shop at the farm store. Your choice of items may be expanded to include eggs, meats, homemade foods and cheese.
Rainbeau Ridge, for instance, is famous for its delicious goat cheese made right on the premises. ‘Farm Days’ allow for members to observe the conversion process and Joe get to give us a tour.
And, of course, leave it to Chef Nathan to find a way to transform goat cheese into a delicious sweet dessert.
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