While the closest that most Americans get to agriculture choosing from produce trucked into the grocery store from California. However, summer months offer the opportunity for mindful people to cook in the evening with veggies picked that morning from local farms. Community Supported Agriculture groups, or CSAs, help to sustain local famers and their practice, while offering members the opportunity to know and be familiar with where their fruits and vegetables are coming from and who is growing them.
The process is simple; members subscribe and pay a certain fee for the season or how many weeks or months of produce they’d like to receive from a certain CSA farmer.
Depending on the farmer, there will be conveniently located pick-up stations or deliveries weekly of boxes or bags. Each member receives one box, bag or basket a week. In these boxes are fresh, organic produce harvested during the season at their best quality.
The season usually lasts from June to November, and the produce in the box usually depends on what is available at that farm. Some farmers even allow customers to mix and match their boxes to a degree of what is available. Aside from veggies, some farmers also sell meat, cheese, flowers, fruits, and eggs.
Not only is this a great way to receive fresh produce and support local farmers, but also it creates a relationship between the customer and the farmer. The farmer is able to know the people who eat and enjoy the food they work hard to grow, and the customer has the ability to know the farmer growing their food.
There are many CSA local farmers that supply these boxes to Takoma Park residents, and bring their goods from their farm to families’ kitchen tables.
Michael Tabor, owner of Licking Creek Bend Farm in Needmore, Pa. since 1972, and his wife Esther Siegel, started the CSA program with their farm about six or seven years ago, Tabor said. Their pick-up stations include Takoma Park, multiple places in D.C., Gaithersburg, and Bethesda.
Tabor got involved with the CSA program to make sure his sustainably grown food would be available for people of mixed income groups, and food stamps and certain coupons could be used. “One of our criteria is that we have that alternative access to our food,” Mr. Tabor said.
Once Tabor and Siegel started with the CSA program, they realized it helped them financially wise as well. Because money is short at the beginning of the season, the concept of entering into a contract with people who are willing to pay and get the food during the season is very helpful.
“It allows us to pay workers, pay bills, and it makes a lot of sense. For us it’s great, and for the consumers it’s great,” Mr. Tabor said.
Another great aspect of CSA is the relationship farmers can have with their customers. Mr. Tabor’s farm has an open house once a year, and this year it falls on June 3. It is generally open and they highly encourage the CSA members to come and see how the food is grown, the farm itself, and meet the harvesters.
At the open house, people can ask questions about the farming process and get involved at a personal level. “We want to make it clear this food is grown by us and it comes from us,” Mr. Tabor said. This direct interaction, whether it be volunteering or simply seeing the farm, allows customers to build a trust with their farmer.
“Our biggest complaint is usually too much food in the boxes,” Mr. Tabor said. CSA members and subscribers have priority because they help to support the farm.
Lorig Charkoudian, a Takoma Park resident and CSA subscriber of Licking Creek Bend Farm since 2006, said, “I think that our family is really committed to eating locally produced foods because of its good for the environment as well as our health.”
Charkoudian said there is an education benefit for her family as well. Even her two children enjoy the fresh produce and play a game in the summer where they try to guess a certain food’s travels, such as who picked the peppers. Because her and her family visits the farm, Charkoudian explained seeing how the food is grown helps make the connection to the food on your plate later on.
Getting the box every week also helps Charkoudian to plan meals based on what is in the box, and not have to worry about preparing meals and buying ingredients in advance. It also challenges her to learn new recipes.
Charkoudian is also working with a group of people to try to find a way to develop a shared, commercially certified kitchen so that people could take locally grown produce and make and sell “value-added products” with it, such as tomato sauce, soups, salads, etc.
The hope is that this would increase the amount of locally grown food that would have a market, as well as increase jobs in the community. The kitchen would also hold cooking and nutrition classes for the public to learn how to eat and cook better.
Silver Spring CSA, or SSCSA, does marketing and enrollment for Lancaster Farm Fresh, according to Erin Johnson who runs SSCSA with her husband Daniel David Johnson. They started this about 10 years ago after realizing there weren’t any CSA’s where they lived.
They started as volunteers, helping organic farmers ease into the CSA program. In 2011 when SSCSA reached 900 members, the Johnsons decided to make their business official.
SSCSA is not a wholesaler, but a “marketing rep” for LFFC. They search for a farm partner who meets the criteria for service and quality, and work with them to bring them customers. They currently have over 20 pickup sites in Maryland.
“We love helping the farmers be sustainable. We also love introducing people to this healthier, more environmentally responsible way of eating,” Mrs. Johnson said.
A few local CSAs:
Licking Creek Bend Farm (Takoma Park, Md.)
Michael and Esther Tabor
5 A Day CSA (College Park, Md.)
Sandy Spring CSA (Silver Spring, Md.)
Daniel and Erin Johnson