Join A CSA!

The conversation usually goes as follows. Me: You want some peaches they're from Upstate? I have extra ones from my CSA. Friend: Yea! What's a CSA?

The Acronym CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and exists as a mutual support and commitment between local farmers and community members who pay the farmer an annual membership fee to cover the production costs of the farm. In turn, members receive a weekly share of the harvest during the growing season. The quality of the produce coupled with the great price makes belonging to a CSA community a rewarding experience.

It works like this, a customer becomes a member by making a payment to a particular community center that is in touch with the farmer that supplies the fruits and vegetables.  Once you are a member you share in the season's bounty by picking-up your weekly produce at a local drop off spot. An allocation averages around $900 for a full share and $700 for a half share. A full share gets you about 20-30 pounds of fruits and vegetables a week. It pretty much takes over your entire refrigerator! Once you are a member you share in the season's bounty by picking-up your produce at a local drop off spot. As a shareholder, you become allies of the farm and the agriculturist you support. By sharing in the harvest, you provide a dependable market which allows the farmer to do what he/she does best: farm.

When joining a CSA you have a direct relationship with the farmer that grows your food. You can even visit the land where your fruits and vegetables are grown. As a shareholder, your food dollar is maximized for you, the land, the environment, and the agriculturist. It is a win-win situation.

What Defines a CSA and Why That Might Change

By: Justin Chan

It seems like the hottest new buzz word going around the food world is CSA, or Community supported agriculture. For all us city dwellers who most often than not get our produce from supermarkets and may not know yet what a CSA is, here's a simple explanation: Community supported agriculture is a practice that has been heavily championed by local farmers and advocates who believe that local farms offer the freshest and safest produce available. Although many of them agree that it is a better alternative to purchasing chemical-ridden goods from chain supermarkets, there has recently been a huge disagreement among them over the very definition of CSAs.

According to NPR's The Salt, traditionalists worry that farmers have reinterpreted the concept of CSAs and have unfairly pocketed the money that should go to local farms. The traditional CSA model allows members to buy a share at the beginning of the growing season so that farmers have enough capital to grow foods. The payment also covers a weekly delivery of produce.  The model is intended to build a strong relationship between consumers and local farms, but some farmers are changing the model in order to draw customers away from supermarkets.

In some cases, such farmers import goods from other farms to supplement their CSA produce. Others import their products from large, regional co-ops. Some co-ops have run CSA programs that sell products from a combination of farms, while other programs have been run by the customers themselves. In all of these instances, consumers have a larger variation of produce to choose from than the one offered in the traditional model. Another benefit is that farmers sometimes share the administrative costs with their clients, which helps reduce their financial burden.

Still, traditionalists say that the revised versions have corrupted the relationship between people and local farms. Allan Balliett of Fresh and Local said that there has been less transparency and that the food dollars have not been used in the way they were intended to be spent. He considers himself an old-school CSA supporter and stresses that the CSA model is an "emotional and nutritional necessity" that values human and ecological health over profit.

"People should always try to talk to the farmer before they join a CSA," Balliett said. "If they're really concerned, they should go to the farm."

Photo: sierraromeo [sarah-ji]

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Women We Admire: Stacey Murphy, Founder of BK Farmyards

Interview With Stacey Murphy, founder of BK Farmyards By Julia Burgi

Most people take the gustatory pleasures of food for granted - we all know that what we eat can be delicious. Some people are also concerned about the impact of their food on the environment, on other people, on animals.

Where one's food comes from - especially produce and animal products - has become a mainstream issue. Both how it is farmed and how far it travels to reach our kitchens are important things to think about, especially in urban centers. Stacey Murphy founded BK Farmyards in response to these issues. BK Farmyards brings delicious, fresh produce and eggs to New Yorkers.

Stacey and the BK Farmyards crew seek to reconnect consumers with their food by helping people participate in its production. Where might such land exist in such a dense city? Right in people's backyards! Essentially, BK Farmyards takes underutilized, open land and turns it into farmland, including land belonging to developers, organizations, and homeowners with backyards.

The produce harvested is distributed to the landowners as well as members of the BK Farmyards CSA. But they go further than just providing the food - BK Farmyards helps organize community meals to use food as a way of bringing people together. Through their produce, Stacey and BK Farmyards employees and members seek to provide "local jobs, local economic growth, and a sense of stewardship and pride in the community."

BK Farmyards has also been working with the High School for Public Service in Brooklyn, a public school that provides students with the academic and social skills necessary to become the "Heroes of Tomorrow". With BK Farmyards, the school has created a farm run by students that has been integrated into the curriculum as well as the community through a CSA.

Stacey has taken on this amazing venture after getting an undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering, a Masters in Architecture, as well as years of gardening and teaching experience. One of the most amazing parts about Stacey's farm work is that she aims to bring fresh produce to lower-income communities in an affordable way. While there are certainly many sustainable food programs out there, they are often a luxury of the wealthy who can make the choice to spend more money on ethically produced food. Stacey is working to make sure produce with a great background reaches everyone.

I asked Stacey about the best parts of being part of BK Farmyards:

Julia Burgi: What is your favorite thing that you harvest at BK Farmyards? How do you like to prepare it?

Stacey Murphy: Lacinato Kale (some call it dinosaur kale): I think the leaves are sweeter and more tender than other varieties. I love preparing our teens' raw kale salad recipe which has a delicious honey, lemon, peanut butter dressing.

JB: What is your favorite part of working with BK Farmyards? Are you into digging in the dirt or is it the people you meet or something else?

SM: My favorite part is that you never know what is going to happen on the farm: every day is different, and the number of people I interact with has broadened my understanding of cultures around the world. Farmers Market days during the summer are extremely rewarding when we are selling gorgeous produce, talking with the community, and teens are doing cooking demonstrations.

JB: What has it been like to watch BK Farmyards grow so successfully over the past few years?

SM: Some days I look around and I am humbled by all the people who are dedicated to the work we do and by all the people whose lives have been altered. We could never have grown this much so quickly without a lot of support from the community. We also have so much yet to do! There are still a lot of people who lack access to fresh and affordable produce.

Support Thy Farmer: Go CSA!

By Rena Unger - Holistic Nutrition Chef

Last week in Honor Thy Farmer - Go Local, we talked about the health benefits of going local and shopping at your farmers market. Are you ready to make a bigger commitment to your health and support our farmers in a more impactful way? Joining a CSA will do just that! Want to know more? Let's start with - What is a CSA?

Community Support Agriculture, or CSA, is a community of individuals, families, friends, roommates or partners who pledge their support to a farm, or coop of farms, by way of a pre-season farm share payment. In exchange, the "community" receives a weekly share of the crops yielded that week. Each CSA sets a different schedule that commonly runs for 10-20 weeks. The average vegetable share contains 5-10 different items each week. CSA shares are available across the country for vegetables, and in many areas you can also find fruit, dairy, animal protein, egg, flower and herbal medicine shares. Most shares begin in May and end during the fall. Winter shares are also available on a weekly or monthly basis.

Here are some valuable benefits of joining a CSA:

*Your pre-payment financially supports the farmers upfront, helping to relieve stress in a mutually beneficial way. This commitment allows the farmers to plan their crops more efficiently. With more strategic planning based on actual commitment, they can expect a successful and plentiful season.

*By cutting out the grocery store middle man, you can build a direct connection with the farmers and receive top-quality at a lower price. Many CSA groups invite the farmers to visit the community at least once a year providing the opportunity to get to know them personally.

*Herbicides, pesticides and insecticides grow with the produce. You cannot wash them off.  As a CSA member, you can speak directly to the farm group to learn about the practices they use to care for the land and grow the food you will consume.

*The weekly share travels a much shorter distance than food transported across the country or globe, which supports our environment by using less fossil fuel and automotive pollution. A healthy clean environment is always good for our health!

*You get top-quality produce harvested at its peak packed with essential vitamins and minerals, which means increased nutritional benefits for you!

*Each week is a culinary adventure - you never know what you are going to get! Assortment in your diet = a wider variety of vitamins and minerals. This variety creates balance in the body and fosters good overall health. Last summer I received organic bitter melon in my share. This is an incredibly health supportive vegetable that has been linked to reducing blood pressure, stabilizing blood sugar, preventing tumors and treating diabetes. Bitter Melon is extremely hard to find, especially organic.

*Many farms invite their community members to visit for a tour and/or help harvest the crops. This is a great way to connect with land, your food, the farmers and fellow community.

I have had the pleasure of participating in few different farm shares in NYC. Last year I moved to Harlem and joined the Harlem Community Farm Share. I am returning this year, as a vegetable, fruit, egg and herbal medicine share member. It is always an incredible and rewarding experience. By joining a CSA you are not only investing in your health, but your community and the farmers who are truly committed to delivering food grown with integrity.  To find a CSA in your area check out Local Harvest and Just Food.

Eat well!

Rena Unger - Holistic Nutrition Chef

If you would like to reach out to Rena Unger personally please click here.