Eating local foods has never been easier since Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) has become so popular. The relationship between food growers and consumers is more intimate as we are able to contract with growers to provide the food we want to create a more vibrant and healthy lifestyle.
I have been fortunate to be part of three different CSA more or less for 13 years. This year I have the privilege of getting my produce from Ben Perrault and Liz Adler at Mountain View Farm in Easthampton, MA. They have been the top pick in our local Best of the Valley awards chosen by the residents of the area for the last three years. Naming them the best CSA farm in the area. This is especially poignant considering the quality of farmers running CSA in our area. I decided to talk to them and find out what makes them so great and get an insight into their farming practices.
Mountain View Farm
Mountain View Farm (MVF) started in 2006 when they bought their business from their mentor. Their vision was to grow the business quickly to become economically viable, to be accessible for families as well as the community, to provide safe, nutritious food and be a good place for people to work.
To be economically viable the farm needed to be big enough to sustain capital improvements, support their budding family yet not so big they would not be able to sustain the workload. Ben primarily handles the farming and Liz handles the marketing and community relations. Together they have a winning vision.
As conscious, sustainable farmers they begin with soil fertility. As Ben says, “Nothing is going to be good if you don’t start [with soil fertility].” They use compost, amendments and organic fertilizers to ensure the soil had the right nutrients to grow quality produce.
They currently own 12 tillable acres of farmland and lease land within an 8 mile radius of their land in Easthampton, MA. This creates logistical challenges when determining what varieties of produce will grow in certain locations. They need to account for soil conditions, plant varietals and community access (for the u-pick crops).
To sustain soil fertility and prevent pest infestation they use an intensive crop rotation system. In sustainable farming this means the farmer does not plant the same family on the same plot of land within three years of each other to prevent pests and promote proper soil utilization. To manage this intensive rotation they use a complex excel spreadsheet to map the growing season from year to year.
One of the things I was interested in learning about is how they manage to grow enough food to provide variety for all the shares and give people value for their money. Liz explained they use equations based on the number of shares, the amount of land needed to grow the quantity of food needed and take into account any excesses or shortages for previous years. They currently offer full shares for 1000–1200 families in the local area.
Another tool they use to provide for the members is to keep it simple. There are always requests for half shares or work exchange. They have found offering one type of share helps them to keep up with the busy growing season.
The Value of an Average Share
The average share costs $22-$27 per week for a 22-week (5 month) growing season. Each share gets 14–15 pounds of produce per week and has access to the u-pick crops all season. The u-pick crops vary depending on what is growing through out the season. Based on their most current email we can be looking forward to flowers, herbs, strawberries, raspberries, beans, peas, cherry and plum tomatoes. Depending on how well a member utilizes the u-pick crops can significantly increase the value of a share. Our family is able to gather enough herbs to keep us going through the winter and the kids look forward to picking strawberries, raspberries and tomatoes every year.
In addition to the produce MVF provides, they have also connected with local growers and businesses to provide their wares to members. It becomes one stop shopping for many members. MVF offers bread, eggs, butter, cheese, honey, local fruits, pickles, coffee, poultry and pork, milk, kombucha, pizza, tofu, yogurt, and grass fed beef from local purveyors.
One of the benefits to farmers and members I enjoy most is the flexibility for the farmer to experiment with different varieties of plants. Produce a store won’t buy or sell isn’t a concern for CSA farmers. The members are therefore given the opportunity to try vegetables they may be less familiar with but provide greater variety and in my experience more interesting taste encounters. Children also get a unique opportunity to be introduced to a whole host of vegetables. One thing is certain. If you buy a CSA share you must love vegetables because you will be getting an abundance of great food.
Community Supported Agriculture in the Community
CSA is more than a business model. It connects people with farming, creates sustainable local food for the community, offers farmers a financially viable method to practice their love of farming and creates connection to our land. We are fortunate to have such a jewel in our own backyard that supports our efforts to eat local, fresh food throughout the year. In addition MVF gives 100,000 pounds of food to the local Food Bank in exchange for land they use to grow their crops.
This year they are also partnering with a local bicycle delivery for people to get their pick-ups without ever leaving home. The ways they build community are endless.
If you are looking for a CSA near you check out Local Harvest. It is the most comprehensive listing of local farms, farmer’s markets, stores and resources for the United States.
This season I will be posting weekly about or share at MVF to give everyone a glimpse at the volume and variety of food available at your local CSA and how our family will be using it to sustain us throughout the year.
I hope everyone considers a CSA share. If you are or have had a CSA share leave a comment below and tell us about your experience.