Farm to table: Community supported agriculture lets you share in growing, eating locally


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It's time to sign up if you want a produce subscription via a community supported agriculture program.

CSA just gets more popular every year, says Mia Rose Farber, Western region outreach coordinator for the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture. The group, which has a brochure listing more than 20 area farms that offer programs, including five new ones, has dubbed this "the year of the CSA."

"People are responding more than ever," she says, in part because of the economy, with CSAs costing roughly half as much as produce purchased at retail. Programs are offering more options, too, from products (meat, bread) to payment.

Erin Barnett, director of LocalHarvest, a grassroots group that allows farms to join its database on localharvest.org., says that last year, 557 CSAs created listings. So far in 2009, more than 300 more have, for a total of 2,585.

More CSAs are being started by young people, women and Latinos, "not the traditional segment we think of as farmers," on smaller acreages, she says. "The dollar value of a CSA per acre is pretty high."

Interesting trends include a San Francisco service that gardens in urban backyards and shares produce by CSA (myfarmsf.com). Some CSAs allowsubscribers to come to a drop-off point and mix and match items; others take customers' money upfront and debit them for purchases over the season (LocalHarvest is working on such software for its site). She says, "The model is so popular; it just makes sense that entrepreneurs, which is what farmers are, tweak it to make it fit."

In Maine, there's even a community-supported fishery (portclydefreshcatch.com), a concept that is spreading.

Learn more about CSA in the stories below and inside. Meanwhile, enjoy these photos of CSA shares, taken by Louisville's Dana McMahan, who's blogged about her CSA experiences at travelingmcmahans.wordpress.com/mistymeadows.



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