Two Sundays ago, as the nation adjusted to daylight savings and a lost hour of sleep, I dragged myself out of bed to attend Just Food’s annual conference on community supported agriculture (a.k.a. CSA*) in New York City. I’ve been a regular at the conference for several years, an event that’s always been held on Saturday, never Sunday, the day I like to linger a little longer in bed.
Was the conference worth giving up the most cherished Sunday of the year? Or the trouble of a subway and bus ride uptown to Columbia University? You bet. Once I got there, I was greeted by swarms of earnest, well-meaning people — dreamers and idealists intent on building a better world through better food. There were workshops and the usual panel discussion with local farmers, always a big draw. And, of course, there was plenty of healthy food, compliments of local food providers. For lunch, I feasted on a roasted eggplant and goat cheese sandwich, and nibbled on salad greens drenched in a soy, honey and sesame seed dressing.
I also got the latest on the number of CSA communities in New York City. They grew again this year, to more than 80 from 62 in 2008. Starting May – the beginning of the CSA summer season – more than 24 local farmers will be providing food directly to New Yorkers citywide.
The focal point for me was the keynote speaker, Cheryl Rogowski of W. Rogowski Farm, a 150-acre family farm in Pine Island, New York. The former employee of a real estate development company farmed in her spare time before making a full-time commitment to the family’s second-generation farm. In 1999, she started a small CSA program with 12 members. Today she has 600.
CSAs, she said, are “the hot sexy thing now,” not farmers markets. “It’s never been a more challenging or exciting time to be farmers than now. Farmers,” she later went on, “are rock stars.”
With an auditorium packed with local food supporters, the claim didn’t seem farfetched. The conference, like last year, was sold out. Rock star status was evident in another meaningful way. Investors, noted Rogowski, were dumping real estate development and buying agricultural land.
Still, Rogowski warned local farmers and food supporters not to grow complacent, as agribusiness behemoths were watching and lurking from corners (figuratively, that is), ready to stymie the emerging local food movement.
She rallied the audience for their support, saying that everyone had a role to play in keeping the local food movement strong. She appealed to consumers of local food as well at the broad network of CSA organizers and community activists in New York City. “We can never rest,” she said. “We need to make this movement as strong as we can.”
*Look for my article in the dining section of Resident.com dated Feb. 6, 2008, entitled, “Community Supported Agriculture Takes Off.”