Community Supported Agriculture in NYC
CSAs, or Community Supported Agriculture groups, are an increasingly popular way to get farm-fresh, organic produce in NYC. When you join a CSA, you pay in advance for a season’s worth of products which include fruits, vegetables, and sometimes dairy and/or meat from a specific farm. Your membership fee supports the farm in buying tools, fertilizers, and necessary equipment for the growth season. Depending on your arrangement with the farm, you can pick up a weekly, biweekly, or monthly selection of produce from a designated drop-off point in your neighborhood. CSAs create a cooperative relationship between farmers and consumers, bringing local, high-quality, fresh produce to city residents and providing funding to farmers so they don’t have to take out loans at the beginning of each growing season. Many of the farms offering CSAs use organic growing practices, benefitting the environment as well as members.
The idea behind the CSA was started in Japan in 1965 by a group of women who were concerned about the use of pesticides at local farms and the prevalence of processed and imported foods. The program was called teikei, which translates to “partnership” or “cooperation” in English. In the 1970s, a similar model was developed by farmers in Holland and Switzerland. From there, the idea was brought to Indian Line Farm in Massachusetts and the Temple-Wilton Community Farm in New Hampshire during the 1980s. The Indian Line Farm CSA grew from 30 to 150 members in just four years, and the Temple-Wilton Community Farm has expanded to over 130 acres (including an orchard and diverse population of livestock), making it the oldest continually-running CSA in the United States. The first CSA in New York City was started by Roxbury Farm in 1991 with just 30 shares distributed out of the Union Square Greenmarket. Today, Roxbury Farm distributes shares in New York City, Westchester, Columbia County, and the Albany area. In 2012, the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that over 12,000 farms in the United States were offering CSA shares, and today there are dozens available to choose from just in NYC.
A typical CSA share includes up to 10 types of vegetables and other produce, enough to feed a family of 2 or 3. In New York, many CSAs offer half shares for smaller households or allow members to split shares with neighbors and friends. Some farmers offer the option to buy eggs, homemade bread, cheese, flowers, and other products along with their vegetables, and “mix and match” style CSAs, which allow members to choose which produce they take, are becoming common as well. Most shares run from June until October or November, but some farmers offer winter shares with root vegetables and sometimes home-made jams and jellies. Administrative management of membership and drop-off points is run by a rotating group of volunteers, allowing the farmers to focus on growing and delivering their products. Members typically pay $450-$650 for a season, which may seem steep, but in the long term it ends up being one of the most economical ways to purchase quality produce. Many CSAs offer payment plans, sliding scales, scholarship shares, and some are set up to accept food stamps, which means in some cases, they are more accessible to low-income communities than farmers markets and organic grocery stores.
Aside from being cost-efficient, CSAs expose members to vegetables they might not find in the grocery store, such as purple carrots or garlic scapes, allowing them to add variety to their diets and get adventurous with their cooking. Many CSAs send out a newsletter before pick-up day, allowing members to plan ahead by finding ways to use all of the produce. Joining an organic CSA means access to incredibly fresh, nutrient-rich, and eco-friendly produce, while knowing you’re helping a local farmer support their family. Farmers receive payment early in the season, so they can avoid high-interest loans. Farmers also get to form a relationship with the people who eat the food they work so hard to grow. While there is some risk involved for consumers (for example, if a dry season makes for a smaller yield), assuming that risk creates a greater sense of community among members and farmers, with everyone invested in the success of the farm.
If you’re interested in joining a CSA, Just Food and Local Harvest can help you locate one in your neighborhood if you enter your zip code. You can contact the farm directly to inquire about organic farming practices, or you can check out Time Out’s roundup to find out which CSAs are organic. Some CSAs will even deliver to your home, though you can expect to pay a bit more for those. Whichever option you choose, you’ll be joining a growing number of New Yorkers who support farmers directly while enjoying fresh, local, and organic produce. Check out the informational video below if you want to learn more: