From One NYC CSA in 1995 to 100+ Today

Photos by Matt Bierce

Photos by Matt Bierce

The Big Apple now boasts more than 100 CSA programs according to the local food advocacy group Just Food which promotes CSAs, farmers markets and other urban food initiatives (including its inspirational City Farms program).  Just Food estimates that nearly 40,000 Gothamites now get their produce through Just Food-affiliated CSAs.  Considering there was only one CSA in NYC in 1995, this growth, in arguably the best way for consumers to know where their food comes from (other than growing it themselves), is a deeply satisfying sign of hope in our modern era of edible food products produced by industrial operations, whose bottom line of profit-making dominates their decision making.

CSAs benefit consumers, who can obtain healthy, fresh, good food, in a way that directly connects them to the source of their food.   Farmers who adopt this model of small scale, non-industrial agriculture also benefit because consumers jointly share the risk and costs of farming by paying for their food shares upfront, and they can focus on producing food during the growing season rather than spending time finding a market for what they grow.

With the increasing number of CSA farms and other sources of good food (including the more than 60 farmers markets throughout the five NYC boroughs operated by Greenmarket), some established CSA farms have been slower to sell-out their shares or have witnessed a slight decrease in shareholders. The granddaddy of CSA farms in upstate New York, biodynamic Roxbury Farm, a 300-acre farm in Kinderhook (Columbia County) is short 15 members this season; but with over 1000 shareholders representing over 1200 families, this minor shortfall represents only $9,000 of an $800,000 budget.  Still, in past years, shares at pickup locations in the Capital Region, for example, were sold out in January, months before the start of the growing season.  Roxbury Farm’s shareholders reside in Columbia County, the Capital Region, Westchester and Manhattan, and if you’re considering participating in a CSA this growing season and live in one of these areas, perhaps one of these 15 shares might still be available as of the date of this post.

Garden of Eve Farm on the East End of Long Island in Riverhead (Suffolk County) has also seen a marginal decline in new members from its peak of around 900 shareholders.  Eve Kaplan-Walbrecht, co-founder with her husband, Chris Kaplan-Walbrecht, of this organic Long Island farm, suggests to make up any decline in shareholders, farms might downsize, try specializing to meet niche demand, try partnering with different farmers to offer more products in their CSAs or perhaps even operate a farm café.  Garden of Eve Farm runs  a farm café  on its farm which offers “lunch items from deli case daily” from April to Halloween as well as hot food entrees on Wednesdays through Sundays.

The Wassaic Community Farm in Wassaic (Dutchess County) was established in 2008 with a mission to address food justice issues both locally in Dutchess County where the farm is located and in the Bronx and Brooklyn. Besides delivering some of its CSA shares for pickup at the farm and another location in Dutchess County, it delivers CSA shares to a location in the Bronx and at the Bushwick Farmers Market in Brooklyn, where it also operates a farmstand on Saturdays from 11:00AM-4:00PM.

In New York City, there has been the development of a “distributor/CSA hybrid” called Next Doorganics, which originally started in 2011 as a traditional small CSA.  According to Next Doororganics founder Josh Cook, “People want to support farms but they want it to fit with their lifestyles.”  Based in Brooklyn, Next Doororganics now sells weekly shares sourced from a variety of local New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania organic farms (and even some urban rooftop farms) year-round.   Winter share boxes also include food from small organic farms in California according to Cook.  In upstate New York, Farmie Market, representing nearly 90 farms throughout the Capital Region, Mohawk Valley and Hudson Valley, offers customers in its service region the option to order food on-line from “small, environmentally and socially-responsible farms.”  And in Western Massachusetts, Berkshire Organics, working with over 50 local farms and businesses, “Brings the farmer’s market to your door” by offering produce baskets or individual items (totaling at least $35) for delivery throughout Berkshire County or pickup of at the store located in Dalton (Berkshire County) with everything “certified organic or locally, sustainably produced.”

While convenient, there’s a price to these alternative distributor arrangements compared to a traditional CSA farm model.  Garden of Eve Farm co-founder Eve Kaplan-Walbrecht puts it precisely: “People don’t have a relationship with the farm and can’t come out and understand exactly where their food is from.”

(Matt Bierce  7/7/14)

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