Community Supported Agriculture Pays Delicious Dividends

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by Michele S. Byers, Executive Director, New Jersey Conservation Foundation

For many of us, springtime means starting seeds and preparing to plant. But if you don’t have the space, time or knowledge for farming and gardening, check out community supported agriculture (CSA). CSA farms allow non-gardeners to enjoy bountiful fresh vegetables – and support farming in this state we’re in.

A typical CSA farm offers a limited number of “shares” to the public, based on the farm’s capacity and business plan. You can buy a share before the growing season and receive your dividends as a box of seasonal produce every week from late spring through fall.

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CSA members get the freshest possible produce, with all the flavor and nutrition intact. An added benefit for CSA members is knowledge about how the produce is grown – whether fertilizers or pesticides are used and, if so, what kind. Many CSA farms offer organic fruits and vegetables. Adventurous chefs will enjoy the spontaneity that comes from not knowing exactly what produce will arrive at their door in a given week, and the opportunity to test recipes for new veggies.

Farmers can do well with the economics of CSAs. Cash flow is guaranteed by having members buy CSA shares in advance of the growing season. Rather than laying out cash for seed, equipment and other supplies months before realizing any income, farmers have cash right up front.

With such obvious benefits, CSAs have grown by leaps and bounds over the past 20 years. In a recent Inside Jersey article, the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey (NOFA-NJ) estimated that 1,500 acres on 35 Garden State farms are now committed to CSAs. Cherry Grove Organic Farm in Lawrence Township, Mercer County, had 17 CSA members in 2001; today it has 300. Honey Brook Organic Farm in Pennington and Chesterfield is New Jersey’s largest CSA farm, with 4,500 members.

CSAs can be creative and flexible, with many variations on how produce is distributed to members. Some allow mixing and matching your produce, so you don’t get a bushel of Brussels sprouts if there’s nobody at home to eat them. Some may include eggs, cheese, fruit, flowers and baked goods. Others may sell shares just for specific crops.

As with any “investment,” there’s risk. You are, after all, buying future produce before it’s grown. Droughts, floods or other problems could wipe out or lower crop yield. But at worst, you will have helped a local farmer stay in business in the nation’s most densely populated state!

If the freshest of the fresh and tasty vegetables sounds good to you, check out the “Find a Farm” link at the NOFA-NJ website (www.nofanj.org) and become a farm shareholder. Farmers interested in setting up CSA on their farm can also find how-to information there.

And if you’d like more information about conserving New Jersey’s precious land and natural resources, please visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.


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