Where I live in East Harlem, it can be tough to find fresh, affordable fruits and vegetables. Fast food chains occupy many of the storefronts, and the produce selection at our local Pathmark can be pretty slim.
That’s why this spring, my roommates and I decided to pitch in and buy a farm share. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a way to buy directly from a local farmer, paying for a “share” or “subscription” at the beginning of the growing season and getting a big bag of farm-fresh produce every week.
CSA programs offer enormous benefits. First of all, small farmers – whose business is by nature risky and unstable – get a huge boost from an upfront cash investment at the beginning of the season. Second, urban people with little access to healthy food can cut out the middleman and receive fresh vegetables directly from the farm at an affordable price. Third, the environmental footprint of our food is vastly reduced when we get our vegetables at one centralized location from a single, nearby source.
Not to mention the sense of community that CSA programs inspire. A CSA is a risk-sharing enterprise, and very personal. Neighbors come together to support a single small farmer, and cross paths each week when we pick up our share from a community garden. To get my produce, I walk to Papo’s Garden on 119th and 3rd, a beautiful green space first envisioned by Rafael “Papo” Marrero in the 1980s and later transformed with tremendous effort and help from the Bronx and Manhattan Land Trusts and the Horticultural Society’s GreenTeam. Once a trash-filled lot, the garden is now home to rows of basil and spinach, community art pieces, a gazebo, and café-style tables under leafy shade.
Our share is provided by the Project Harmony/Kitchen Table CSA, which buys from Gonzalez Farms in Pine Island, NY. Like more and more CSAs around the city, ours offers a sliding scale share price, so higher-income members can subsidize shares for those who can’t afford full price. They also accept EBTs as payment. The four of us chipped in for a $370 share, which gives us weekly produce from June through November. That works out to less than $5/week per person for a giant bag of fresh greens, vegetables, and herbs. Last week’s share included red scallions, radishes, espinaca, broccoli rabe, red leaf lettuce, and baby celery. In this heat wave, we’ve been assembling giant crunchy salads and cold dishes with our share, saving us money (and a trip to the wilted salad aisles of our local chain supermarket).
There are CSA programs throughout the five boroughs. It may be too late for you to get on the summer CSA bandwagon, but many farms offer winter shares – sign up now, and you could be enjoying carrots, potatoes, and hearty greens all winter long! - CL
Are you a CSA member or farmer? Questions or tips about farm shares? Let us know on our forums!