Spring CSA Fair on March 24 offers 'speed dating for local food' and chance to meet farmers
Kim Bayer | AnnArbor.com Contributor
Snow may still blanket the ground, but I have seen a fat robin redbreast hopping around the yard and purple crocus demanding to bloom. I know spring is closing in with its asparagus and tender lettuces and tiny peas, and that means CSA time is near as well. If you're wondering which CSA farm to sign up with, Slow Food Huron Valley's "Spring CSA Fair" on Sunday, March 24 from 2-4 p.m. at the Pittsfield Grange is a chance to have all your questions answered — and you could even win a free CSA share.
CSA is an acronym for "Community Supported Agriculture," which is an increasingly popular way for members to get a "subscription" to a local farm. The CSA model has expanded to encompass nearly 40 farms (and a few other businesses) in our area now. They offer not only weekly boxes of locally grown, often organic, vegetables, but also local and humanely raised meat, fresh bread, frozen fruits and vegetables, prepared meals, whole grains for milling, and there's even a CSA growing 43 varieties of garlic!
Signing up for a CSA membership offers a host of individual and community benefits. Some of the main advantages of a CSA farmshare are that it's the most affordable way to get local, sustainable food on your plate, and it gives a vote of confidence to family farmers. I have heard CSA members say that the health advantages of improving their diets and their cooking skills are among the most important reasons they join. But there are additional benefits that ripple out like concentric circles.
For example, small-scale, family-owned and diversified CSA farms build soil health, protect water quality, support biodiversity, and offer habitat for pollinators. And perhaps most importantly, CSA farms that grow food for people are a cornerstone of community food security.
Community food security, the ability of a region to feed all its citizens without having to depend on the petroleum-based global corporate supply chain, is going to be one of the biggest challenges of the coming era. Giving a "vote of confidence" to a local farmer by signing up for a CSA membership is a first step toward changing systemic food policies. As Michael Pollan says, it's a way to "vote with our forks" for a world where health is the priority, rather than resource extraction for profit.
Since CSAs don't have the marketing budgets of corporations, they can struggle to get enough members. At the same time, there are so many CSA choices now that potential members don't always know which CSA might best meet their needs. Slow Food Huron Valley (of which I am a board member) is stepping in with a solution to help CSA farms and potential CSA members find each other at a Spring CSA Fair.
Farmer Shannon Brines says finding a CSA is like dating — you have to get the right match. Slow Food Huron Valley (SFHV) is describing the CSA Fair as "speed dating for local food." It's a chance for community members to meet and get their questions answered in person by their CSA farmers - up to 30 farmers will be at the Pittsfield Grange on Sunday, March 24 from 2-4pm.
How the CSA Fair works:
So far more than two dozen CSA farms have registered for tables. The farmers will come with their displays and brochures and talk to individuals about how their CSA program works. Potential CSA members will be able to learn, in just a short time, which CSA options have the right kind of food, the right pickup time and location, and the right price.
A few other organizations will also be represented at the Fair. Packard Health Clinic will be on hand with information about their free health insurance programs. And the Great Lakes CSA Coalition will be there talking about establishing insurance wellness rebates for CSA members. The Pittsfield Grange will also have information about Grange programs!
In addition, anyone who signs up for CSA membership at the March 24 event will be eligible to enter a drawing to have the price of their share paid for by Slow Food Huron Valley. The only thing that's better than local food? Free local food.
Spring CSA Fair
Sunday, March 24, from 2-4 p.m.
Pittsfield Union Grange, 3337 Ann Arbor-Saline Road, Ann Arbor
CSAs ATTENDING THE SPRING CSA FAIR INCLUDE
Bridgewater Barns, Saline - http://www.localharvest.org/bridgewater-barns-family-farm-M42869
Brines Farm, Dexter - http://www.brines.org
Capella Farm, Ann Arbor - http://www.capellafarm.com
Community Farm of Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor - http://www.communityfarmofaa.org
Dyer Family Organic Farm, Ann Arbor - http://www.dyerfamilyorganicfarm.com
Eat Ideas Farm, Ann Arbor - https://twitter.com/eatideasfarm
Frog Holler Organic Farm, Brooklyn - http://froghollerorganic.com
Goetz Farm, Riga - http://www.localharvest.org/csa/M56215
Green Things Farm, Ann Arbor - http://greenthingsfarm.com
Handsown Farm, Manchester - http://handsownfarm.wordpress.com
Honest Eats, Ann Arbor - http://www.honesteatsfarm.com
Our Family Farm, Manchester - http://ourfamilyfarmllc.com
Mulberry Hill, Saline - http://mulberryhill.org/blog
Pregitzer Farm Market, Munith - http://yourfarmmarket.com
Snick's Farm, Jonesville - http://snicksfarm.com
Stone Coop Farm, Brighton - http://www.stonecoopfarm.com
Sunseed Farm, Ann Arbor - http://www.farmsunseed.com
Tantre Farm, Chelsea - http://www.tantrefarm.com
Zilke Vegetable Farm, Milan - http://www.zilkevegetablefarm.com
Stone Soup Staple Foods, Homer (Amish farmers, no website)
ABOUT THE CSA PARTICIPANTS
What do you hope will come about as a result of the CSA Fair?
Brines Farm: "Just want to help raise awareness of the CSA model to more and more people."
Community Farm of Ann Arbor: "In the flourishing CSA culture in our area, The CFofAA is very excited to participate in the CSA Fair. This is a perfect forum for people looking to eat healthy, fresh food which supports our local economy to meet their local food providers."
Locavorious: "More people will become interested in CSAs and eating local produce!"
Why have you set up your business using the CSA model?
Brines Farm: "It is the most financially stable model for a small farm."
Community Farm of Ann Arbor: "The Community Farm of Ann Arbor is a 26 year old Biodynamic farm about 15 miles West of Ann Arbor. Biodynamics is Rudolph Steiner's agricultural theory in which the farm is considered a complete organism working with Nature to leave the ecosystem and soil in better condition year after year, and bring the utmost nutrition and energy into the produce. These practices go above and beyond organic farming as we use Biodynamic preparations and teas on the soil, plants and compost, and rely on the astrological calendar to draw upon all the forces present in the Universe. This method brings luscious diversity and a peaceful, sanctuary-like feel to the land. We keep a cow, goats, and chickens to provide fertility from their manure and energy from their beings. Absolutely no artificial poisonous herbicides, pesticides, fungicides or fertilizers are used on the farm."
Stone Soup staple foods CSA: "It seems like the best way to support farmers while providing a good price to members."
Honest Eats: "Shared risk. Without the upfront support of our members it would be extremely difficult to get started each year."
Locavorious: "The folks that support farm CSAs also support the Locavorious mission.Â A CSA model allows a business owner to be closer to their customers, who we typically think of as “members,” get faster feedback from them, and help create community and connection.Â The CSA model also enables an agriculture-based business to balance revenue and costs throughout the year."
What is significant or unique about your CSA?
Brines Farm: "Area pioneer in sustainable ag and year-round growing and harvests. First Winter CSA in this area. Continue to experiment and refine techniques. We chat and share knowledge with as many other farms in the area. We volunteer hundreds of hours annually towards local events and organizations (like Slow Food) working towards strengthening our local food system and community."
Community Farm of Ann Arbor: "The CFofAA was the first CSA in Michigan when it started in 1987. We emphasize the Community in CSA in that our farm is entirely member-owned and run. Every member has an equal voice in the decisions made in the management of the farm, while the farmers, apprentices and volunteers tend to the day-to-day workings. Monthly membership meetings are held to conduct farm business where the consensus decision making process is used to come to solutions that all members can live with.We have festivals and parties to engage our member community in fellowship and require a small volunteer contribution to engage them in work which suits their skills and strengths. We support our farmers with a living wage which provides for their health care and retirement plan, as well."
Bridgewater Barns: "Both markets (we attend) facilitate EBT and other food programs, and we do accept EBT for (our) CSA."
Stone Soup staple foods CSA: "We offer difficult-to-find locally grown whole grains."
Honest Eats: "We deliver within a 40 mile radius of the farm."
Locavorious: "Believe we are the only frozen produce CSA in this area, or even the Midwest."
Mulberry Hill: "A buffet-style pick-up is a unique aspect our CSA has to offer. No more guilt for the gelatinous pile of veggies in the refrigerator drawer. We'd like our members to take produce in the amounts they know they can use (while still being willing to try some foods they've never tasted before). Â This allows them to interact with everything in their share, ask questions, get ideas for recipes — choice."
What are you hoping to provide for your CSA members?
Brines Farm: "Weekly fresh harvests of annually increasing variety of fruits and vegetables. Periodic opportunities to volunteer or come to events (potlucks etc.) at a beautiful historic farm in northern Webster Township."
Community Farm of Ann Arbor: "At the CFofAA, members can expect to receive an entire year's worth of produce, if stored and preserved properly. The shares are distributed at the farm, with the members choosing to pick up either Wednesday or Saturday. Members are encouraged to carpool, and a scheme is being developed to coordinate members into distribution pods to minimize driving to the farm. Distribution begins a the end of May or beginning of June, depending on weather conditions, and ends with a Grand Finale usually around the first week of November. One share is based on providing the vegetables for a family of four, so half shares and Autumn "Back to School" shares are also available. The share cost is a sliding scale between $700 and $2000 for a full share. The sliding scale is offered in order to include members in all stages and walks of life in the farm. It is up to each member to decide what they can contribute within this range, knowing that choosing to pay the higher end of the scale will help a member who can only afford the lower end.
We grow over 50 different crops on the farm from apples to zucchini, and everything in between. We focus on crops that are not only bountiful and grow well in our climate, but are gentle on the earth; greens being a constant nearly all of the growing season. Some member favorites are the intensely sweet and sun-filled cantaloupe, giant juicy heirloom tomatoes, rich and hearty eggplant, and decadent beets and basil. We keep bees to pollinate the plants and teach us their diligence and loyalty; so there is often honey available for purchase in the autumn. The sweet chickens provide eggs which are also available for purchase on a first come, first served basis. The farm only raises fruits, vegetables and herbs for distribution, but one of the beauties of our community is the connections to folks who provide other types of produce within our membership, such as meat, dairy and grains."
Bridgewater Barns: "We offer half shares for $305, and full shares for $555.Â Our CSA runs for 22 weeks, May through Oct. 1.Â Pickup is in Ypsilanti, either at Downtown Ypsilanti Farmers’ Market on Tuesday 2-6 p.m. or at Depot Town Farmers’ Market on Saturday 8:30 a.m.-12-30 p.m. We start our CSA in May when early season greens are abundant."
Stone Soup: "We offer whole grains and winter vegetables including: Wheat berries - 52 pounds; Oat groats from hull-less oatsÂ - 24 pounds; Rye berries - 24 pounds; Spelt berries - 12 pounds; Corn (dried) - 8 pounds; Popcorn - 12 pounds; winter vegetables - 90 pounds (primarily onions, potatoes, and carrots along with other winter vegetables such as squash, beets and rutabagas; dependent upon harvest)."
Honest Eats: "32 weeks of the most nutritious best tasting food that we can grow, with the knowledge of how to use and store that food."
Locavorious: "Enabling them to eat local year-round, and support their favorite local farmers, without having to do the work of preserving significant quantities of food for themselves during the summer."
Mulberry Hill: "We are mostly a produce CSA, though we plan to offer other locally produced (both from Mulberry Hill and other local farms and vendors) items including fresh-milled flour and oats, bread, granola, cheese, eggs, soap, flowers, and the list goes on.Â In exchange for their early-season generosity, our members receive delicious and fresh produce at a considerable discount from market prices. They can also look forward to food preservation workshops, U-pick opportunities, picnics on the farm, farm parties, and lots of other opportunities for meaningful engagement. Â We're really hoping to cultivate community as much as crops, and are excited about all kinds of collaborations throughout the season."
What do you think are the most significant benefits for members of a CSA?
Brines Farm: "Win-win scenario of investing in a small authentic business and getting healthy nutrition packed ingredients in return."
Locavorious: "Healthy, unadulterated food, that you know exactly where it comes from, how it was grown, and often who grew it."
What are your thoughts on the relationship between food and health?
Brines Farm: "Healthy fresh food is one of just a few core requirements ultimately needed for good health."
Community Farm of Ann Arbor: "The CFofAA offers fresh, local, healthy food and much, much more. We believe in providing people with with the opportunity to have a close relationship with the food that nourishes their bodies, the people who grow the food, and the land which nurtures it. Using Biodynamics to create healthy soil, in turn, creates healthy food, which creates healthy people who can make healthy choices to care for the Earth and each other Â We believe these practices of community-rooted sacred agriculture will bring about a positive change in our membership, which will ripple out into our larger State, National and World communities."
Stone Soup staple foods CSA: "What you eat *is* the fundamental basis of your health."
Honest Eats: "They are tied together."
Locavorious: "I believe there is a direct connection between the American epidemics of obesity, diabetes, (and likely cancer too) and the unhealthy typical American diet of highly processed, highly sugared food loaded with additives and chemicals.Â Getting back to eating organically grown whole foods, more plant-based and prepared at home will reverse our national health decline."
Mulberry Hill: "Food and health are inextricably linked; it's impossible to consider the implications of one without considering the other. And I think community is an equally interdependent thread in the web, but it's the social element of sustainability that we so often overlook; we can't really do this in isolation. The CSA model sincerely recognizes the value of our relationships and no longer allows the disconnect between grower and eater and food and soil. As a farmer, I consider the tending and cultivating of community to be just as vital as the health of our soil and plants. We're so inspired by the enthusiasm of our members, and are excited to see how our combined interests and passions will guide the energy of the season."
Anything else you would like people to know about your CSA?
Brines Farm: "You are not just investing in a share of a wonderful harvest you are also supporting all our farm and myself are trying to contribute to the community. Â Whether you choose one of our CSA programs or another area CSA, Thank You for supporting CSAs!"
Stone Soup staple foods CSA: "As with all CSAs, your membership helps support local agricultural resilience — thank you!"
Locavorious: "Every package of our locally grown frozen produce is labeled with the farm that grew it, location of the farm and date of harvest.Â These locally grown frozen fruits and vegetables taste better than the anonymous grocery-store produce trucked-in or flow-in during the winter months."
Kim Bayer is a freelance writer and culinary researcher. Email her at kimbayer at gmail dot com.