According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, barely 26% of Americans eat fruits or vegetables every day. Despite millions of dollars spent on public awareness campaigns and other initiatives to get Americans to chomp down on some carrots at least once a day, the lack of consumption of non-processed foods is still a major contributor to the obesity epidemic gripping the country, and many parts of the developed world.
The advent of industrial farms and expanded scientific agriculture has also raised alarms over a variety of issues regarding our food sources: genetically-modified crops, chemical fertilizers and pesticides, as well as social concerns regarding labor standards and regulation in domestic and foreign farms. Despite these concerns, some of them very valid, our supermarkets are still filled with the cheapest available produce, most of which does not come from local or individually owned farms.
The industrialization of farming has also had an impact on our communities. As local farms continue to live under the specter of the farm loan, more and more farmers have found themselves in the job lines while their farms end up auctioned on the courthouse steps. These farms, which were the foundation of the rural lifestyle of places like Holly, end up being transformed into cookie-cutter subdivisions and contribute to suburban sprawl.
In the face of issues of science and chemistry, of land-use and community character, and of public and individual health, there is a hearty movement across the United States that seeks to recapture some of the best aspects of the fading agrarian society. This movement seeks to bolster local farming, encourage agricultural methods that favor natural or organic production, and integrate these into the fabric of communities, staving off the monolithic dependence on processed foods and the deleterious health consequences of cheap fried, sugar-laced nourishment.
One approach of this movement is Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), a marketing arrangement for farmers where local residents purchase seasonal memberships or shares with a local farmstead. While the arrangements may vary from farm to farm, most memberships entitle the subscriber to a box of fresh fruits and vegetables each week from the farm, depending on what is ripe and in harvest at the time.
Early summer packages may include strawberries, rhubarb, peas, beans and lettuce; mid-Summer might include fiery-red tomatoes, broccoli, cucumbers, and sweet corn. Late-summer and fall boxes might contain squash and gourds, peppers, potatoes or onions.
CSA provides many benefits to the farmer, as well as to the community. Because memberships are paid up-front at the beginning of the growing season or before, farmers have more time to market and promote their CSA program before the work days get long in the fields. Up-front memberships also provide farmers with a dedicated flow of cash, which has always been a great challenge for farmers who would normally have to get the returns on their produce at market, and might allow farmers to expand their crops to capacity without the risk of waste.
CSA also benefits community members who are concerned about the source of their produce and the methods of growing, fertilizing and pest control. Unlike most produce in supermarkets that is produced on industrial farms around the United States and the world, CSA produce is guaranteed local and at the height of ripeness. Most of the time, members are welcome to visit the farm to inspect the produce and receive information first hand regarding if and when chemical pesticides are used. Farms that grow organic produce are accountable to their members to guarantee certified organic growing methods.
CSA programs also help to enhance local farmers markets. Some CSA farms offer pick up of membership boxes at the farmer’s market, driving more consumers to the market and helping all vendors. CSA farms might also have supplementary “self-pick” options, or even a community farming option where members can help with crop maintenance or picking. Other agricultural commodities, such as meat, eggs, herbs or grains might also be available through membership or a la carte.
Local businesses like restaurants can also benefit from participation in CSA memberships. Depending on the volume required by the restaurant, CSA farms can provide easily available produce, allowing restaurants to market their menus as offering “locally grown” or “organic” and increasing diversity of selection. This keeps money in the community, which often has far greater benefits community-wide than the slight discount that out-of-town wholesalers provides.
As with any agricultural program, there are risks in a CSA membership. Inclement weather or growing conditions from season to season may reduce the productivity of some or all crops, affecting the consumer’s product. Members must also trust, or be willing to be self-involved in oversight, that claims of all-natural or organic agriculture methods are upheld and used. Members must also keep in mind that “real” farm produce doesn’t undergo the exceptional selection process of store-bought produce: there needs to be tolerance of crooked cucumbers, spotty salad greens or cabbage heads that aren’t gigantic.
Although the Holly community has large tracts of agricultural land and numerous farms, there is only one farm listed as offering CSA membership. Wannafarm, 11035 Fish Lake Road, offers 15 membership shares at $435 per share. Assuming a membership term of 16 weeks (June-September), that’s $27 per week for home-grown fresh produce, or $7 per person per week in a family of 4.
CSA might not help Americans, or even local Holly residents, to eat their recommended share of vegetables, but it’s a proactive and community-oriented approach that involves people in the production of their food. More awareness of CSA programs might encourage other area farms to begin their own programs and reintegrate agriculture into the local economy beyond the table at the farmer’s market or roadside stand.
An entire list of local CSA farms, as well as information on farmer’s markets and other community agriculture programs can be found at www.localharvest.org.