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Community Supported Agriculture offers consumers a ‘share’ in farming

Community Supported Agriculture offers consumers a ‘share’ in farming

Janelle Kelterborn, owner of a Community Supported Agriculture venture, picks peppers from Turlock's 3 Acre Farm.


POSTED September 20, 2011 10:44 p.m.

Genovese basil. Romanesco zucchini. Spanish musca pole bean. Minowase radishes. Red kuri squash.Crimson carmell tomatoes.

Boxes full of those mouthwatering farm-fresh heirloom vegetables – and countless other varieties – are going straight from small local farms to households around Turlock each week.

It’s all part of a burgeoning movement in farming called Community Supported Agriculture which sees customers buy a “share” in a farm, in exchange for a share of the farm’s crops.

“It's like having your own little gourmet garden — without having to do any gardening,” explained Janelle Kelterborn, owner of Turlock’s 3 Acre Farm, a local CSA.

Kelterborn, like most CSA owners, grows a wide range of crops on her small Turlock farm. The variety ensures subscribers receive a mix of seasonal produce each week, from herbs to onions, turnips, and eggplants.

For most CSAs in the area, prices for a share tend to be less expensive than a typical grocery store bill, usually between $15 and $25 per week, despite the organic, heirloom nature of most CSA food. Some offer fruits, eggs, or meats are also available for a nominal add-on charge.

Kelterborn admits she and other local CSAs could probably charge more, akin to trendy CSAs in Southern California and the East Coast which charge a premium to an upscale, health-conscious crowd, but said she isn’t in it for the money.

“I'm doing what I love to do,” Kelterborn said.

Kelterborn wasn’t born into farming, but always had a green thumb as an amateur gardener. About two years ago the allure of running her own farm became too much to ignore, so Kelterborn opened 3 Acre Farm – a venture she runs in addition to her day job as a nurse.

David Silveira, owner of Atwater’s Silveira Farms, came to CSA from a different path – one started growing vegetables in the Azores and tracing through Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo’s agriculture program – but sees similar benefits.

“It's becoming a really good way to get fresh produce to people, organically grown,” Silviera said. “Our goal is to use what is locally available, what can be grown here to help our members live a healthy lifestyle.”

CSA is all about the food, Silveira explained. People willing to cook can eat healthy, farm-fresh food every day of the week. And open houses provide an opportunity for CSA members to come out to the farm and see how food is grown, picked, and prepared firsthand.

To help CSA members cook all the vegetables – many of which may be new to subscribers – the farms pack in a newsletter each week. That newsletter offers an update on the farm, keeping subscribers in touch, and also provides recipes for the week’s crop.

“I think people appreciate the newsletter more than the food even,” Silveira said with a laugh.

Silveira Farms’ newsletter, penned by David’s wife Michelle, has contributed in large part to the CSA’s rapid growth in the six years since its founding, David Silviera said. Currently, the farm is adding a new website where subscribers can manage their account and see those newsletters online.

But word of mouth has largely driven CSA demand – and drawn the attention of Rich Wallace, an assistant professor in the California State University, Stanislaus Anthropology Program, to the practice of Community Supported Agriculture.

With the help of CSU Stanislaus’ Office of Service Learning, Wallace sent students in his Cultural Anthropology fieldwork class to Silveira Farms and Contented Acres Produce, of Gustine, to research CSAs last school year.

The students spent time working the farms and speaking to the farmers, as well as conducting a survey of CSA subscribers. On that survey, subscribers overwhelmingly gave their experience a 5 out of 5 rating.

“Generally, people were overwhelmingly satisfied with the CSA,” Wallace said. “It shows that they think it's a good investment.”

The students’ research showed subscribers to be happy with the content of their boxes, to appreciate the newsletters and recipes, and to consider CSA memberships to be a good value. Of the respondents, 45 percent had visited the farms in person, seeing the growing process first-hand.

Perhaps most interestingly, respondents attributed lifestyle changes to their CSA memberships. Survey takers said they became more adventurous in eating and cooking, had a new attitude about cooking, and were being less wasteful with food. They became more conscious of eating healthy, and began eating larger varieties of vegetables.

“It shows some of the other benefits you might not normally accrue to a farmer-customer relationship,” Wallace said. “People get excited about their cooking.”

The results of the survey didn’t surprise Bill Nunes, owner of Contented Acres Produce. For 10 years, Nunes sold most of his goods at farmers markets, but now almost 90 percent of his sales come through CSA memberships.

“I'm really fortunate that people are more and more interested in organic and local food,” Nunes said. “It's something that's really out there. It's becoming more and more popular.”

Recently, the localvore movement has grown faster than local farms have been able to respond. Demand has pushed Contented Acres Produce to an eight month waitlist in some cases, leaving CSA membership a sometimes-exclusive affair.

“I'd like to be a little less exclusive,” Nunes laughed.

For more information on local CSAs, see the sidebar, or visit localharvest.org.

To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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