Everyone has an opinion about food (organic vs. conventional, local vs. imported, Paleo vs. plant-based, and the list goes on). No matter your school of thought, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) succeeds in getting people more connected with their meals.
As magazine subscriptions are to publishers, CSA is to farmers — allowing farmers to sell portions of their product to customers or members prior to the growing season. When harvest time comes, those who’ve bought a membership receive weekly portions of produce directly from the farm. In turn, the member invests in the farmer: they share the risk of a poor season (receiving a box of produce that may not be as flavorful, due to poor weather), and the rewards of a plentiful harvest (a bounty of crisp lettuce, plump tomatoes, etc.). This idea emerged in Japan in the 1960s and made its way to the United States in the mid ‘80s. Today, over 4,000 CSAs are available across the nation, and of these, over 20 are available in Western New York.
“I do it because I’d rather eat local and seasonal,” said Kristin Saperston, a mom in Snyder who has been involved with a variety of share programs for over six years. “It’s a little more economical, and I like to support our farmers.”
Like Saperston, many Buffalonians reap the benefits of local CSAs. Produce-based share programs such as Thorpes’ Organic CSA began with 42 families in 2001, and now serve over 540.
“We love what we do and we feel good about the food they’re getting,” said Gayle Thorpe, owner of Thorpe’s Organic Family Farm. In the summer, members pick up their share at the East Aurora farm. In the cold months, the Thorpe family works from their Florida groves, sending fresh citrus back to members of their winter CSA. Large oranges arrive, vibrant in flavor.
“But you can’t say each CSA has increased in popularity. Some have gone out of business,” said Thorpe.
Which is why farmers like Martin Rosiac, owner of Farm This Way in Brant, engage customers past the traditional harvest months. In the winter, children meet the chicks that will grow to lay the eggs for Rosiac’s CSA. The kids love seeing 205 bright yellow puff balls running freely in the greenhouse.
Farmers & Artisans, a brick and mortar store in Williamsville, also works hard to provide a unique member experience. It’s a one-stop-shop for locally grown goods, and a hub for many share programs including vegetable, fruit, meat, milk, eggs, kombucha (fermented tea), flowers, seafood and soup. Think of it as an indoor farmer’s market with chefs and prepared food included. The inner walls are painted in vibrant “Sunflower,” but owner, Julie Blackman, said, “it’s really the color of a healthy egg yolk.”
“Soup shares: We came up with the idea to get people to come during the winter,” added Blackman, who is also the sixth generation of Blackman Homestead Farms in Lockport.
For 13 weeks, members pick up one or more quarts of soup made from local and seasonal ingredients. Additionally, Blackman makes sure nothing goes to waste. Surplus from vegetable, meat or fish shares becomes homemade soup.
This general “no waste” philosophy resonates through all CSAs.
“I wanted to carry flowers in the store, but they are so perishable,” said Blackman on the flower share. “Now it’s a prepaid thing, and that makes it possible. We don’t have loss; we don’t throw any away.”
From June to October, members pick up a weekly bouquet of locally grown flowers. Some purchase this membership as a gift for Mother’s Day, and others just want flowers to brighten up their home or office.
“The goal of Farmers & Artisans is to change lifestyle, not just one meal,” said Blackman. “All the shares support the idea of living the right way. Not just low-fat or low-sugar.”
Blackman has a seafood share customer who divulges her weekly sea-to-table adventure: how she cooks it, who came over for dinner, and what everyone thought of it. Members who participate in this offering are able to connect to small-scale fisherman on the East Coast, Carolinas, the Great Lakes or Alaska. Each week, the seafood is sustainably caught on Thursday and shipped overnight on Friday.
“I like knowing where my food is coming from,” said Saperston. “You’re bringing home fresh, local, homemade products to feed your family in a more natural way, but also sitting down to meals.”
CSA membership also supports the local economy. Want to try one? Here are some farms that offer local shares:
Bootleg Bucha (Kombucha)
Busti Cider Mill
Farm This Way
Farmers & Artisans
(milk, eggs, soup, produce, fruit, flower, seafood, meat)
First Light Farm & Creamery
(shares delivered to various WNY locations)
Promised Land CSA at the Oles Family Farm
Alden and Corfu
Plato Dale Farm
Root Down Farm
Roots & Wings Family Farm
Wildwood CSA at McCollum Orchards
Catherine Yeh Henry is a local freelance writer.