Community supported agriculture offers new take on buying produce

03/08/2013 4:00 PM |

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Eve Kaplan-Walbrecht (left) of Garden of Eve in Riverhead explains her products to a visitor during Saturday’s Community Supported Agriculture Fair at Polish Hall in Riverhead.

Over 150 people gathered to hear the benefits of buying a share in a local organic farm at the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York’s Community Supported Agriculture fair held at Polish Hall in Riverhead last weekend. This was the second time such a fair was held on Long Island, and the first time it was held in Riverhead.

“I’m pleasantly surprised by the number of people here,” said Fred Lee, owner of Sang Lee Farms in Peconic. “If they could join a CSA, it would help that farm tremendously.”

Members of the community buy a farm share in the late winter, and during summer and into fall they receive a season’s worth of fresh farm produce in return.

“CSAs are very beneficial for the farms,” Mr. Lee said. “By taking payments up front, it produces a lot of up-front capital we can then use for fertilizers, land rent, to pay workers and things like that.”

“We’ve been doing this for eight years now,” Mr. Lee said. “Last year we had over 600 shares.”

Farm shares range from about $400 to $600 a season, and buyers will receive fresh produce for about 25 weeks through the summer and fall, said Nicole Dennis, CSA fair coordinator. Each farm handles shares individually, and produce ranges depending on what each farm grows, she said.

“We like to think of ourselves as a specialty vegetable producer,” said Mr. Lee, whose vegetables include bok choy, Asian radishes and snow peas. “Things that may not be in other shares.”

Steph Gaylor, owner of Invincible Summer Farms in Southold, said she plants 350 types of tomatoes and 250 kinds of peppers, and says that diversity is what sets Invincible Summer Farms apart. Ms. Gaylor said she offers 40 shares, providing shareholders fresh produce weekly for 20 weeks.

“I think this is great. CSAs on the East End have been around for a while. I think it needs to travel west,” Ms. Gaylor said.

“Long Island has some of the best soil in the U.S.,” said Roxy Zimmer, representing KK’s Farm in Southold. “I think people are discovering that the taste of food grown on local farms is more delicious. It’s a step away from the lack of quality in industrial agriculture.” She said KK’s Farm offers what’s called a Gourmet CSA that has no up-front fee.

“The people that take advantage of the farms out here really benefit,” said Eve Kaplan-Walbrecht, owner of Garden of Eve in Riverhead. “Our goal is that you get more than what you paid for.”

Ms. Kaplan-Walbrecht said shareholders get seven to 9 different types of produce a week depending on what’s in season.

“I got a few people to sign up,” said Phil Barbato, owner of Biophilia Organic Farm in Jamesport. “It’s very nice to see all these people interested in organic local food.” Mr. Barbato said he only offers 50 farm shares a year.

“I think the fact that [my program] is so small, I get to know everyone personally,” he said. “I really enjoy that part.”

Mr. Barbato said he sends his shareholders weekly newsletters with updates and information about the farm. He also started a young farmers program so the children or grandchildren of his CSA members can learn about agriculture. The children plant seeds in his greenhouse, and when those seeds grow into a seedling, the kids get their own space to plant them on his farm, Mr. Barbato said.

“I want them to see what it’s like; they can see how wonderful it is,” said Mr. Barbato, who hopes to get other children in the community interested as well.

Elena and Ron Dobert of Mattituck made their way around the fair, hearing about the different types of produce each farm offered.

“We have a garden and we are trying to eat more healthy,” Ms. Dobert said. “This seemed like a good opportunity to have organic vegetables.”

About an hour later she and her husband chose to sign up with Mr. Barbato, saying the location, price and the way he would keep them informed and educated about the farm is what set Biophilia Organic Farm apart from the others.

“And he has flowers,” Ms. Dobert said with a smile. “We are looking forward to it.”

To find out more about purchasing a farm share visit farms individually or log on to nofany.org/csafair.