With warmer weather fast approaching, Brooklyn residents will be looking for fresh farm-to-table foods in their neighborhoods.
One option, growing in popularity, is membership in a CSA, which stands for Community Supported Agriculture, because of the opportunity they provide for city residents to get locally harvested foodstuffs, mostly produce but also dairy products, meat and even fish.
Through CSAs, residents partner with a farmer before the growing season begins, paying in advance for a share of the farmers crop, which is delivered weekly or biweekly throughout the growing season. Some CSAs even offer winter shares.
CSAs are created by neighbors coming together to form a ‘core group’ that organizes neighbor sign-ups and coordinates with the farm. Many CSAs have subsidized shares; in these, while those who can afford to pay full price for their bounty, lower income households may qualify for a reduced cost.
The Fourth Avenue Presbyterian Church has been hosting the Bay Ridge CSA for 12 years and Pastor David Aja-Sigmon is pleased with the many benefits it offers the CSA members and the community at large. There is one other CSA serving Bay Ridge, the Yellow Hook CSA, which operates out of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church at 414 80th Street.
“The nice thing about our CSA is that since it’s been here for 12 years we have about 100 members who come either each week or every other week, but it’s also done things like allowing us to save money so that we’re able to support some families who come to our food pantry and couldn’t otherwise do it,” noted Aja-Sigmon. “And it really helps create networks of connections in the neighborhood so that people actually know each other.”
Bay Ridge CSA’s farm partner is Hearty Roots, a local farm located three hours north of the city in Clermont, New York. Marisa Lenetsky has been CSA harvest manager for six years and has been with Heart Roots Community Farm for two years, and helps run the farm along with Ben and Lindsey Shute, the founders of the National Young Farmers Coalition.”
The Bay Ridge CSA, which recently held its annual orientation, offers a full-share program that lets subscribers come and pick up eggs and produce every week and a half-share program that is bi-weekly.
“The whole focus of our farm is CSAs so in peak season we do 700 CSA shares a week that go to about 12 to 15 different sites,” said Lenetsky.
“Some of those are local to the farm and others are in the city,” she went on. “In addition to that, we have a contract through an organization called Local Produce Link that’s funded through the state and that pays us to send 2,200 pounds of vegetables to nine different food pantries every week.”
Aja-Sigmon called the program mutually beneficial because it allows the members to support a small local farm in a world where most farms are huge corporations.
“It also means that not only are we getting great local produce but because we’re investing in them, if they have a season like last year where there was a late hail storm with climate change and all the irregularities, we’re still committed to them,” he said. “But then we get the benefits in the other seasons if they have a bigger harvest.”
People who subscribe to CSAs are getting fresh, healthy and organic products. All the vegetables are harvested the day before delivery so there is a quick turnaround.
“We just grow vegetables. We partner with local orchards to also bring fruit down here, but we’re not producing it.” said Lenetsky. “We do have 1,500 chickens so during the summer we also provide 500 dozen eggs a week.”
While each CSA has its own beginning and end dates, and they can vary from year to year, in general, the CSA season is from June to the beginning of November. Hearty Roots, however, has started growing additional produce for monthly deliveries throughout the winter.
Maria Cofell, a four-year member of the Bay Ridge CSA, enjoys participating in the program.
“My happiest feeling about being a member of this CSA is that you get to go home and wash the dirt off the vegetables,” she said. “I love that. You have no idea how wonderful it is to do that. Everything else is cleaned to an inch of its life but this is the way it was when I was a kid — getting the food fresh from the earth. I especially love that things taste the way they’re supposed to taste.”
For further information on CSAs, go to http://bit.ly/2UY6t3I. To reach the Bay Ridge CSA, go to bayridgecsa.org or email email@example.com.