CSA bridges gap between farms, community


As a unique mix of urban and rural, Tompkins County residents often drive past their future salads and dinners on a regular basis, but may not even know it. Unless they happen to be subscribers to a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program that puts them in personal connection with their food, and the people who grow it.

For 15 years, Stick and Stone Farm and Three Swallows Farm, along with Remembrance Farm, have been giving their CSA subscribers a glimpse into what it takes to produce fresh, local produce. In 2005 the three farms came together to create a collaborative CSA with a focus on being fair to the farmers as well as the customers with organic, biodynamic produce at fair prices, and a priority of treating the land well. Together they made The Full Plate Farm Collective.

“The fact that it’s a collaborative CSA, rather than a single-farm CSA, is really cool because it takes the pressure off of an individual farmer to run the gamut and grow everything,” said Molly Flerlage, CSA coordinator for the collective. “It also increases the variety that people are getting in their boxes or in their free-choice pick-up share.”

Members of the CSA can pay up front or pay in installments for a summer or winter subscription. In return, they get a weekly share of produce that includes around eight to 10 varieties of produce each week. Members can have their box delivered for an extra fee, come pick up the box at a designated spot, or do a free-choice pick up at Stick and Stone farm.

“Generally, it provides all of the members a good variety of produce every week at a better price than you would pay at most grocery stores or markets,” Flerlage said. “Local, organic produce. And members are also able to go to the you-pick garden here at Stick and Stone and also at Three Swallows Farm. It’s just a cool community to be a part of.”

Fresh, local produce delivered to your door on a weekly basis is a great deal for the consumer, but CSAs can also offer farmers a certain amount of security.
“In return, the farmers have a certain amount of guaranteed product sold in a given year,” Flerlage said. “They have more money upfront because in springtime there’s a lot of spending for the farms, getting all the seeds and getting ready for the season. Without a CSA it would be really hard to get all that money up front, so that’s really cool.”

Connecting with a farm through a CSA can give consumers more of a community mentality about their produce. When you get to know the person growing your Brussel Sprouts it might mean more to you when you hear that a pest has been attacking the brassica family of vegetables. You don’t get Brussel Sprouts and your farmer friend loses some of their crop.

Currently, the collective has around 500 members for the summer CSA and around 300 for the winter. Over the last 15 years, the CSA has grown in partnerships with other local farms and businesses to offer their members more options outside of simply produce. Around 10 years ago, Three Swallows Farm became the Youth Farm Project, which contributes to the CSA but has a focus on educating young people on farming practices.

“So, we’ve also been able to be a part of seeing the Youth Farm grow and be able to collaborate with them,” Flerlage said. “One of our you-pick gardens is there. One of our farm pick-ups is there.”

In the end-of-year survey the CSA puts out, Flerlage said that the feedback shows that members appreciate the family-friendly atmosphere of the farm. Interacting with the farmers that supply their weekly produce creates a sense of loyalty.

“If you spend time here and you get to know the people who are growing your food, then you’re more likely to come back to them even if you’re not a CSA member one day, you can still buy their food at GreenStar or another local grocery,” Flerlage said. “So, it’s really cool for the farm to connect in that way.”

The survey also lets the CSA know how their produce is being used, and what recipes members are trying. When members share the recipes they enjoy the CSA will often send it out to the other members. One of the beautiful things about a CSA is the possibility of getting a vegetable you’re not familiar with and getting to try something new.

A membership for the summer CSA costs $575 for farm pick-ups, but the collective works with Healthy Food For All, an organization that can sometimes subsidize the cost of the plan.

“Making the CSA accessible is definitely a priority for the CSA because everyone should have access to healthy local food,” Flerlage said.

While running a CSA has a lot of benefits for local farmers, it doesn’t come without struggles.

“Probably the biggest challenge for the CSA over the past 15 years has been adapting to this ever-changing climate in New York,” Flerlage said. “And that’s not unique to here, of course it’s changing everywhere, but it’s definitely something that’s always on the farmers’ minds. For the most part, I think our members are really understanding and they have a good sense of ‘Oh, I’m not getting a lot of this in my share it’s probably because it’s been a rough season.’”

To celebrate 15 years, the collective will be hosting a party with The Piggery (which is celebrating 10 years) on May 15 from 5 to 8 p.m. at Stick and Stone Farm that promises to have live music, good food, local beer, and cool people.

Correction: Rememberance Farm is still an active farm, Three Swallows Farm is now operating as the Youth Farm Project.


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