Sandy Lindenbaum has been interested in eating well for a long time.
The Boalsburg resident was a member of Centre County’s first CSA, Sycamore Gardens, twenty years ago.
Since then he has tried other CSAs and currently is a member of Healthy Harvest Farm, in its first year of operation, on the flat and fertile fields next to Musser Dairy in Bellefonte.
“(Farmers) Dave and Sara have the best options for me in terms of what I can get. Sometimes I don’t want a wide variety, I only want what I will eat. I pick up Thursdays in State College, and that is a good day for me because I can plan my weekend around what they provide and pick up whatever else I need at other markets.”
CSA is the clinical sounding term for a very friendly and socially conscious arrangement.
Community supported agriculture, or subscription farming, means that customers pay in advance for produce — and sometimes other farm items such as eggs, flowers, meats, baked goods — so that they are guaranteed a share of the farm harvest during the
It is an investment in a farm that guarantees upfront capital to purchase items needed to run the operation. It can be risky; the subscribers are taking a chance on the farmer and, more critically, the weather, because sometimes growing seasons don’t exactly proceed as planned.
But CSAs often become far more than a business arrangement. The subscribers become a part of the farm family and, as such, have the opportunity to participate at the farm in helping out with the harvest or joining in potluck dinners or special events at the farm.
Healthy Harvest Farm is owned and operated by Dave Sandy and Sara Eckert, who honed their farming skills at other CSA farms before saving money while working as research technicians at Penn State to launch their own CSA-only farming operation.
One hundred percent of what they grow goes to the members. They offer a farmers market type set up at their distribution point next to Musser Dairy in Bellefonte on Tuesdays and also in State College at the Unitarian Church on Thursdays so that members can choose only the vegetables they are interested in eating.
There are currently about a dozen farms in central PA that offer the CSA option. If the idea appeals to you, shop around between now and the start of the 2013 growing season to find a good match for your needs. Prices vary considerably as do buy-in options.
Full shares, which means enough weekly produce for a family of four, can run between $500 to $750 for the season. Half shares accommodate smaller families or two individuals who team up to split the cost. Some farms operate only as CSAs and some also sell at area farmers markets. Some offer only vegetables and one, Dn’D Farms in Martinsburg, offers only meats. Some farms that offer CSA membership have products available year round for a limited number of subscribers and delivery/ pickup arrangements vary widely.
Greenmoore Gardens offers the greatest number of options in terms of size and duration of shares, including a “student” share that is tied to Penn State’s academic calendar (no need to be a student to choose the option). Farmer Mark Risso stressed the importance of early sign ups so that critical farm needs can be met at the time of year that the cash flow is low.
Tait Farm has been offering CSAs for 13 years and currently serves 150 members, including commercial share members Harrison’s, Otto’s and Elk Creek that purchase local produce for use in their restaurants.
Village Acres Farm in Mifflinburg has 200 families enrolled in their CSA which has been operating for 15 years.
Bruce and Diane Cramer had a small number of subscribers, currently 20, that are extremely pleased with the arrangement. Tim Herring is a member who says that “Cramer’s Farm CSA is grade A. Delivery is key. Who has time to shop anymore?”
Wilda Stanfield echoes praise. “The vegetables are extremely fresh, washed and delivered in a cooler with an ice pack. We receive email notice of the week’s produce a day ahead and often a recipe using one of the items is included. I’ve tried many new-to-me foods because of those recipes ... I especially enjoy Diane’s notes about how the different crops are dong, the effect the weather has had on the berries, what crops will be ready soon and which ones are finishing up. It makes me feel sort of like a partner in the farm.”
Jonathan Keim is a happy Cramer Farms CSA member “because it helps our family diet by always having fresh produce in the house and it has more strongly connected us with our food providers and local community.” Member Rebecca Strzelec is even more excited. “I can’t really express how excited I get for Fridays, when the share comes home from work with Adam. Yes, it is the start of the weekend but it is also a little bit like Christmas in that he walks in the door with a cooler full of beautiful produce.”
Members of Healthy Harvest Farm, Renee Steffensmeier and her daughter Emily have always been interested in eating well for health reasons.
“Food is powerful, and I am committed to eating well,” says Emily. Renee maintains that the very special experience of connecting farmers and shoppers “builds community.”
Another member of HHF, Ed Stahlman, is concerned with the “corrupt
(big/agra/pharma/chemical) interests who don’t want people to know what’s in their food or how it’s grown or adulterated.” He places more than his trust in the new farmers; he places his dollars and his health.
For more information contact individual farms. On Page C1 is a list, though there are likely others that eluded the Google search. Ask to speak with current members or ask to see what they are offering now at peak harvest season.
Few things in life are as important as the food we put on the table for our family. Supporting local farms keeps our dollars in our local economy and guarantees that you know where your food is coming from. The big plus is that it tastes better.
Anne Quinn Corr is a former caterer and culinary educator who is the author of “Seasons of Central Pennsylvania,” a cookbook about regional foods. She can be reached email@example.com.