The State We're In

It’s time to support your local farmer and join a CSA!

Feb 28, 2019

Even though it’s winter, it’s time to plan for spring! It’s time to enjoy more daylight, crocuses, returning birds … and signups for CSA farms.

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and it’s a great way to put the freshest and tastiest vegetables on your table while keeping local farmers strong. The time to sign up is now!

This time of year, farmers have lots of expenses – seeds, supplies and equipment – and not much income. With a CSA, members of the community pay the farmer in the winter and spring in exchange for enjoying the harvest throughout the summer.

Here’s how it works: A farmer offers “shares” to the community. Consumers purchase the shares, also known as memberships or subscriptions, and in return get seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season.

“It’s really the community’s investment in us that make this whole thing possible,” says Taylor James, owner of the organic Flipside Farm CSA in Bedminster.

“For a farmer, it’s a big asset to have capital up front,” agrees Alex Sawatzky, who ran the organic Sandbrook Meadow Farm CSA in Stockton for eight years and is now pursuing a master’s degree in sustainable food systems. “It means financial stability for the farmer.”

By joining a CSA, you’ll get to know your farmer personally and see how your food is grown. “People want to know where their food comes from,” said Alex. “To have a personal relationship with the farmer is invaluable.”

CSAs started with the simple idea of farmers and customers sharing the risks and rewards of a weather-dependent business. In a good year, there would be plenty of produce to go around; in a bad year, shareholders might end up with a smaller bounty.

Over the years, CSAs have evolved. In the early days, shares would include an identical mix of vegetables. Today, many CSAs have switched to a “market style” arrangement where members choose their veggies. “If you don’t like kohlrabi, you don’t have to take it,” said Taylor.

As a bonus, many CSAs offer free “U pick” items like strawberries, peas, cherry tomatoes, and fresh herbs and flowers. A trip to the farm can be a fun time for the whole family.

“It reconnects people to where their food is coming from,” said Alex. “We hear from people that it was their favorite time of the week, coming to the farm.”

Members of CSAs can also meet new friends with a common interest in healthy eating. Many CSA farmers encourage community spirit by hosting potluck suppers for members during the season, and sharing recipes.

Here are some good reasons to join a CSA.

Buying locally grown vegetables puts less pollution into the air because less transportation is needed. “Our produce isn’t going on trucks and being driven halfway across the country,” Taylor pointed out.

Many CSA farms have sustainable practices like no-till or less-till planting, winter cover crops, crop rotation and companion crops.

And many organic farmers are practicing “regenerative” agriculture, which boosts microbes in the soil that store carbon. If all farmers around the world adopted this method, it’s been estimated that soil could absorb enough carbon to decrease the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to pre-industrial levels!

Dozens of CSA farms across the state are busy selling shares to the public for the upcoming season. If you love fresh Garden State produce, join a CSA today to support your local farmers, eat healthier, connect with the land and contribute to a healthier community. By signing up now, you can help your farmer plant their 2019 crops!

All CSA farms are different. Most CSAs offer weekly shares from about June through October, but some have extended seasons with items like pickles, preserves, eggs and cheese. Some will deliver to homes, businesses, schools or other distribution points. A few offer installment plans rather than requiring the full payment up front.

There’s no single comprehensive listing of CSA farms in New Jersey, but there are several ways to find farms near you. The New Jersey Department of Agriculture’s “Jersey Fresh” program has an interactive map at https://findjerseyfresh.com/availability/ and the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey has its own interactive map at https://farmandfoodguide.com/. Local Harvest also offers a searchable database at https://www.localharvest.org/csa/.

And to learn more about preserving New Jersey’s open space, farmland and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.

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About the Author

michelle_author

Michele S. Byers

Executive Director

Michele joined New Jersey Conservation in 1982 as coordinator of our advocacy efforts in the Pine Barrens. In 1999 Michele became Executive Director of New Jersey Conservation Foundation. View her full bio here.

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