Posts tagged ‘Community Supported Agriculture’
CSA Stands Strong Post-Irene
Tropical Storm Irene has tested the will of even the sturdiest farmers. In an interview with NPR, Cheryl Rogowski, owner of W. Rogowski Farm in Orange County, N.Y., talks about the considerable storm damage to her 150-acre farm. She lost 80 to 90% of her crops with most of the farm underwater at the time of the interview.
Rogowski’s farm is one of 15 CSA farms supplying New York City that suffered severe damage, said Jacquie Berger, executive director of the advocacy nonprofit Just Food, in the interview.
Irene may have knocked out half the city’s CSA farms (31 farms run CSA programs in the city) for the season, but it did little to diminish support for the concept of CSA (community supported agriculture). The tropical storm put CSA to the ultimate test, as CSA customers — shareholders in farm harvests — bore crop losses along with their farmers. (more…)
Political support for local farming is growing at both city and state levels. As I blogged here, the New York City Council last month passed a package of bills to support regional farmers and announced its own Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program with two upstate farmers.
Now state government is backing local farmers too. U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) recently introduced legislation that would create a competitive grant program within the U.S. Department of Agriculture dedicated to the promotion of CSA. The program would award federal funds to non-profit organizations, extension services, and state and local government agencies to provide support — ranging from marketing and business assistance to crop development — to CSA farmers. (more…)
New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn last week released an 86-page report on ways in which to reform the city’s food system. The 59 proposals presented in the report address every phase of the food system, from agricultural production through post-consumption.
“The proposals focus on combating hunger and obesity to preserving regional farming and local food manufacturing to decreasing waste and energy usage,” says the New York City Council in a press release.
The proposals call for new procurement guidelines encouraging city agencies to purchase food from regional farmers as well as new legislation to reduce the packaging for the food they procure. The report urges the city to invest in food processing facilities and to consider a much bolder vision for the redevelopment of the aging Hunts Point Market in the Bronx, the world’s largest wholesale produce market and “the beating heart of our city’s food system,” said Speaker Quinn in her remarks. As part of this bolder vision, the report endorses a permanent wholesale farmers market, which I blogged about here, and the building of new rail terminals to reduce the number of trucks to Hunts Point each day.
Another notable proposal calls on restaurants to recycle their grease. The grease and oil restaurants produce can be “turned into a biofuel that heats buildings and runs vehicles,” said Speaker Quinn.
In a show of support for local farmers, Speaker Quinn announced a community supported agriculture (CSA) plan for City Hall employees. City Council would also work with the Department for the Aging and the New York City Housing Authority to bring CSAs to senior centers and public housing.
A new kind of community-supported agriculture (CSA) plan debuted last month in the South Bronx. The new CSA plan gives members more than a share in a farm’s summer harvest. It also gives them a chance to own a share of the farm itself.
The new CSA plan, described in this New York Times article, is the work of Dennis Derryck, a 70-year-old professor, mathematician and Harlem resident who wanted to make it easier and more affordable for low-income individuals to get fresh produce directly from local farmers. According to the article, Derryck sold CSA shares to local residents as well nonprofit groups for their employees and members. The South Bronx Food Co-op, for example, bought 25 shares of the CSA plan for its members.
Unlike traditional CSA plans where members are required to pay upfront for an entire season’s worth of produce, members in the South Bronx plan pay for two weeks’ supply at a time. And the prices are cheaper, ranging from $3.75 to $20 a week, depending on income, subsidies and share size, according to the article.
Corbin Hills Farm, the 92-acre farm supplying the CSA members, is located in Schoharie County in upstate New York. The farm was purchased by Derryck, who took out a $300,000 loan and collected $562,000 from nonprofit groups in the South Bronx. He hired a farm manager and bought two essentials to launch the CSA: a tractor and a refrigerated truck to make deliveries at drop-off sites in the South Bronx.
Once Derryck pays off the debt on the farm, ownership will pass to CSA members, giving them more control over what’s grown and share prices paid. “They can collectively decide to use their shares to reduce their weekly take, and make other decisions about how the farm is run and what’s grown,” explains the reporter in the article.
CSA plans have long been criticized as being elitist, despite efforts to make them more affordable for low-income people through subsidized sliding-scale payment arrangements, which I blogged about here, and other means. The new commercial CSA plan and farm cooperative that Derryck has envisioned provides yet another arrow in the quiver of those committed to bringing fresh produce to all Americans.
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.”
An article on community supported agriculture made front-page news in the New York Times two weeks ago. The article looks at CSA farms nationally and covers all the basic concepts of CSA, including one that I wasn’t familiar with: CSA members can, if they want to, get down and dirty and volunteer to do real work in the fields. Apparently, people in some CSAs across the country are planting, weeding, harvesting and doing other hard-core farm chores.
In New York City, opportunities to work on CSA farms are limited, due to the distance of the farms. However, New Yorkers can — and do — volunteer in another important way: they can get involved in forming and managing CSA groups in their neighborhoods and arranging all the logistics surrounding food drop-offs.
In New York City, the closest a CSA member can get to experiencing farm labor comes by way of “working days” that some CSA farms organize for their members. Garden of Eve Farm on Long Island, for example, has an “Open Farm Day and Tomato Picking,” where members pick tomatoes and work on family projects. Other farms offer “planting days,” according to Just Food, a New York City-based non-profit that supports CSA and other local food initiatives.
Some farms are even willing to set up times that individual CSA members can come by to work on specific farm chores. For some people, said Just Food’s Paula Lukats, it’s a way to get a “sense of how much work farming is.” And for others, I bet, it’s a way to get even more connected to the food they eat and appreciate it more.
More and more New Yorkers are buying their produce directly from local farmers, and it’s not just through farmers market. Do you want to know how? Through “community supported agriculture” or CSA.
For those who have never heard of CSA, let me explain. Community supported agriculture is a method of food production that links a farmer directly to an urban community. CSA members pay the farmer in advance for seasonal produce that’s delivered regularly at community sites. In a summer CSA program, produce is delivered weekly, usually over a 20- to 22-week period. In a winter program, it’s delivered monthly, as I described in this article in New York Resident magazine.
While CSAs have become increasingly popular nationwide, they’ve often been perceived as elitist. Only the wealthy could afford to participate in what was out of reach for many people. But that perception may soon change as CSA shares come down in price and more farmers enter the CSA farming business.
At a conference on CSA held this March in New York City, the author and food activist Joan Gussow noted that the average price of a summer share has fallen since CSAs first emerged in 1987. Back then, they cost $597 on average. Today, they’re rarely cost more than $500.
What’s more, CSAs have made great progress in reaching out to low-income individuals, establishing creative payment arrangements, including subsidized or sliding-scale shares based on household income. The Bed-Stuy CSA in Brooklyn, for example, offers a reduced share price of $325 for households with income less than $25,000. The regular share price is $425.
Many other CSAs offer similar arrangements. The Fort Greene CSA in Brooklyn reserves half of its 45 shares for low-income individuals, a quota it had not yet managed to fill as of late May. A 22-week low-income share in this CSA costs $300. An upper-income share, in contrast, costs $400.
In such sliding-scale payment arrangements, high-income earners often help subsidize the shares of people who cannot afford to pay as much. The low-income shares can also be subsidized by grants, donations and fundraising events.
In addition to subsidized shares, the majority of CSAs in New York City offer flexible payment options, again making it easier for low-income individuals to participate in CSAs. Many accept food stamps and allow members to pay in installments. In 2007, more than 30 of the city’s 50 CSA sites had at least one flexible payment option, according to Just Food, a nonprofit group that promotes CSAs and urban agriculture in New York City.
In some cases, CSAs are used to help feed the hungry. In his book Closing the Food Gap, Mark Winnie writes about a food bank in Hatfield, Mass., that is linked to a 600-member CSA. The CSA members receive half of the produce grown on 60 acres of farmland. The rest is donated to the food bank for distribution to 400 local food pantries.
Another example is the Holcomb Farm CSA in Hartford, Conn., which sells market-rate shares to its 300 members and deeply discounted shares to 11 community organizations that work with low-income earners. According to Winnie, the CSA distributes between 30% to 40% of its produce among Hartford’s 1,200 low-income residents through the community organizations.
None of this sounds snobby to me. Any lingering perception of CSAs as snobby is likely to fade as more low-income earners gain access to CSA food.