It seems like nearly every neighborhood in New York City has a CSA. The Community Supported Agriculture allows people to join with their neighbors to pay in advance for a “share” of a local farm’s produce throughout a season. According to Paula Lukats, CSA in NYC Program Manager for Just Food, the first CSA in New York was set up in 1991 and they have been sprouting across the five boroughs ever since.
CSAs have proven to be a great source of stability in a temperamental industry for both participating customers and farmers. Eve Kaplan-Walbrecht, of the Garden of Eve Organic Farm & Market in Long Island, says that a CSA allows marketing to occur in the off-season and provides financial stability at the beginning of the season (in February, March and April) when bills are coming in but before produce is available.
“Farmers who do CSAs say, without it, they wouldn’t be farming.”
Having a reliable, regular drop-off allows farmers to lessen the variables of farmers’ markets, such as bad weather, which can result in a lot of waste. Ms. Lukats notes, “Farmers who do CSAs say, without it, they wouldn’t be farming. Farmers who used to work multiple jobs might now be able do a winter share. Also, kids are taking over the family farm business, which hadn’t been happening for a while.”
In exchange, customers get fresh, local produce delivered to a convenient location without needing a Zipcar to stock up at the nearest mega-mart. Farmers like Ms. Kaplan-Walbrecht in turn try to offer a variety of items each week, and even some produce that may not be widely available commercially.
CSAs are not only growing in popularity, but also in what they offer. Ms. Kaplan-Walbrecht and her husband team up with farmers they meet through markets and conferences to offer interesting new things, such as local cheeses. They noticed that larger distributors were claiming to be selling through a “CSA” but were not actually farm-run or on a true CSA model. In order to compete, the Kaplan-Walbrechts wanted to diversify their offerings, which also gave them an opportunity to “find people to work with, try different things, and include products which provide value and diversity for different tastes for our customers.”
As New York’s love affair with food flourishes, new models have developed. Sean Dixon, co-founder of The Village Fishmonger (a Community Supported Fishery, or CSF), observed, “With access to local cheeses, ciders, meats, yogurt, ice creams, and, yes, seafood, the NYC CSA network really can be your one-stop shop. CSA’s (and CSFs!) are popping up in all neighborhoods of the city, working with local food markets, community groups, and food activities to bring fresh, local food to more and more New Yorkers.” A CSF is similar to a CSA, with members signing up for a regular pickup of a certain amount of fish (whatever is caught that week by local fishermen, with a focus on sustainable fishing), often with add-ons like oysters or clams.
The community-supported model also gives customers a chance to know and engage with the people who are providing this bounty of local produce, dairy, eggs, meats and fish. The Garden of Eve Farm often hosts events, like the recent Chick-A-Palooza, with sessions on raising chicken, natural fermentation, and the basics of bee-keeping. The Village Fishmonger is producing Sustainable Seafood Week NYC from May 6-11 to showcase the efforts of local fishermen, chefs, organizations and communities to promote responsible sourcing of seafood. Mr. Dixon believes the Village Fishmonger works to build a conversation about seafood “by trying to get consumers more involved in the fishery, and the fishermen more involved with the community. We hope to help build bridges in the community that drives a better seafood economy and ecology.”
Mr. Dixon is enthusiastic that, in New York, “we’re lucky to be surrounded by some of the most responsible fisheries in the nation. With such diversity, bounty and accessibility, NYC’s local seafood market has a lot of room for growth.”
Just Food is a great resource for researching how to start up a CSA. Its focus is on providing resources and education, and also matching communities to farmers based on what the community is looking for and general demand in the area. Ms. Lukats has noticed that, while the main shares have always been vegetable focused, early on there was a demand for fruit and eggs. She’s seen CSAs since branch out to locally sourced mushrooms, honey, beans, grains and even wine.
The diversification of CSAs (and the growth of alternate models like CSFs) means that farmers can work together to get greater distribution and that customers can benefit from having access to locally produced foods they might not otherwise be able to find. Ms. Kaplan-Walbrecht noted that her CSA members “might not be able to go out [their] door and find local grass-fed beef. But I can get it for you [from our other family farm] and deliver it.”