CSA adds an innovative model to DC's local food options
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) services help connect city dwellers to farmers, but their produce offerings can be limited. In Adams Morgan, an innovative CSA formed in partnership between a Pennsylvania farm and several local farmers gives residents access to a wide variety of foods throughout the year.
CSAs began in the 1980's and consist of farmers selling "shares" to members, which usually mean a produce box each week. The farmer decides the amount and variety of food in each share, which often depends on what they've grown and harvested that week. As a result, many CSAs aren't flexible, especially for one and two-person households.
Pennsylvania-based Star Hollow Farm, which now operates year-round in Adams Morgan, seeks to change that. The farm's CSA service is more like Amazon.com: by partnering with different local farms, it can offer a wider variety of products and allow members to order food based on their needs.
CSAs often have a limited selection of food. The affiliated farm may not grow everything, and if weather, disease, or pests get to the crop before being harvested, some crops will never make it to a member's box. Many CSAs only operate during the late spring and early summer, giving members fewer options for fresh produce during the winter months.
Sometimes there is a bumper crop of a certain item, which ends up in abundance in the CSA. If a member doesn't enjoy turnips, getting 5 pounds of them in the CSA box will be unwelcome and a potential waste. Even if members get food they like, a never-ending season may mean too much of a good thing.
Star Hollow operates a year-round CSA for Adams Morgan residents, delivering food to the corner of 18th Street and Columbia Road NW each Saturday morning during the spring, summer, and fall. During this time, the farm runs a stand in the Adams Morgan farmers' market. When the market is closed during the winter, the CSA continues to deliver to members bi-weekly.
New members start an account with $300 and are committed to spending it on the food of their choice, however long that takes. Every Wednesday morning, members receive an email with a link to the CSA store and a list of newly available products.
The CSA offers a seasonal selection of fruits, vegetables, eggs, artisanal cheeses, and a small selection of meats. Members maintain an online prepaid account to order when, what, and how much food they want. They can also select a "Farmer's Box" filled with pre-selected items.
This abundance of variety is, in part, due to another more innovative aspect of the Star Hollow CSA. Although Star Hollow is a small-scale farm, and are able to provide over half of the produce it distributes in a season, it gathers additional produce from a number of other small-scale farms growing in the same region. For example, much of the apples and peaches they bring to DC come from a local orchard.
This cooperative effort benefits the other small farms and allows the CSA to have more consistent produce and more variety throughout the year. Members know which farms their produce comes from when they order, so no one's left wondering if their food secretly comes from a corporate food distributor like Sysco.
Members can also give back to the CSA by volunteering once or twice a year, distributing orders from the truck to other members. This is a terrific way to connect with your neighbors and have a little fun on a Saturday morning.
Star Hollow offers a compelling alternative to traditional CSAs. Farmers get improved data on which products sell better than others. This allows them to focus investments in equipment and increasing efficiency while cutting costs on items which don't sell as well.
Meanwhile, members participate in a more flexible and cost-effective system to enjoy fresh produce and support local farmers. This is especially important for lower-income residents that need fresh food but cannot afford to spend money on randomly-selected crops.
But a strange thing happens when you regularly buy from a small family farm: You get to know each other. In a world of anonymous transactions, I have gotten to know the family growing the food my family eats. When there is a flood or one of their family members get sick, we know about it and they are in our thoughts. When a member gets married, suffers a breakup, or has a baby, they check in with a kind word. These are the results of human interaction that grows from field to table.
If more farmers in the DC area adopted Star Hollow's approach to CSAs, not only would people have greater access to fresh, local food, but local farms could become more efficient and sustainable.
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