What’s in the box?

Connecting consumers to Community Supported Agriculture at 2nd Street Market

By Lisa Bennett

If you’re looking for some farm-fresh groceries and a little good old-fashioned fun, you may want to treat yourself to a visit to the CSA fair. This year, local farmers will roll up their sleeves and cook up delectable dishes for fair-goers to sample, made from their own farm-fresh food!

Now in it’s third year, the CSA fair will not only supply local consumers with a wide variety of farm-fresh produce, but also a wealth of information about where the food comes from and how to join a CSA. Farmers presenting will include folks from Keener Farms, Mission of Mary Cooperative, Patchwork Gardens, Mile Creek and Highland Haven, among others.

So what exactly is a CSA, anyway? A CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture, is a program that allows people who live outside rural farms to be able to buy fresh, high-quality food from farmers directly.

“When you go through a CSA, unlike going to the market, you are actually buying a share of the farm,” says Luci Beachdell, Five Rivers MetroParks community gardening supervisor.

Here’s how it works: a farmer will offer a “share” of produce weekly for a fee. The share is often a good-sized box filled with an assortment of fresh produce, which includes vegetables and in some cases fresh herbs and even fruit. Each farm is different, so it’s important to know what you’ll be getting before signing up.

The produce is either delivered to the customer’s home, a central location nearby or sometimes the customer can pick it up at the farm. The fee is usually charged by the season. However, some farmers charge weekly or monthly. If you use SNAP (formerly food stamp) benefits, be sure to check with the farmer, as many farmers do accept them, though there are a few who do not. Either way, the customer is given a portion of seasonal, farm-fresh produce each week. The best part is the consumer knows exactly where the food is coming from and the conditions in which it was grown.

Other farms, such as Keener Farms, deal in meats or other products instead of produce. The concept is still the same, though meat farms do not necessarily have a “season” the way other farms do.

The advantage for farmers is that they are given a stable, steady source of income as well as a chance to get to know their customers and what their customers really want. It’s a win-win for everyone.

One disadvantage (if you can really even call it that) is that you might end up with more produce than you know what to do with.

“You’ve got to be prepared to try new things and think about what to do if you get too much produce,” Beachdell says.

If you’re into canning, it can be a pleasant surprise. Otherwise, you might want to try a swap party with your neighbors or your church or even consider donating the extra to a local food bank. Though consumers almost always get more than their money’s worth, they should be prepared to deal with the worst, as well. Mother Nature doesn’t always cooperate, and a storm sometimes can ruin a particular crop. Although some might see this as a downside, the effect has been quite the opposite. In fact, in some parts of the U.S., there are now more customers than there are CSAs to feed them.

CSAs have seen an explosive growth over the past two decades, but the concept of Community Supported Agriculture hasn’t been around for a long time.

Thought to have originated in Japan, the idea of CSA was first introduced by an Austrian philosopher named Rudolf Steiner in the 1920s. His idea gained popularity in post-WWII Europe then spread to America in the 1980s. Two farms, Temple-Wilton Community Farm in New Hampshire and Indian Line Farm in Massachusetts, became this country’s first CSAs in 1986. Their successes spurred on other farms under threat of big commercial growers like Monsanto.

People have really begun to rally around their local farmers and buy local produce, if not through a CSA, then through farmer’s markets and by shopping at markets that sell local produce instead of commercially grown foods. In what could be a paradox of our times, the simpler, back-to-basics way of life once thought lost forever is making a comeback in a huge way. And while technology continues to move forward, so too does our understanding of just how important our connection with our environment truly is.

Farm Fresh to You: A Community Supported Agriculture Fair takes place Thursday, Feb. 25 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at 2nd Street Market, 600 E. Second St. in Dayton. For more information, please visit metroparks.org.

Reach DCP freelance writer Lisa Bennett at LisaBennett@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Reach DCP freelance writer Lisa Bennett at LisaBennett@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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