Community-supported agriculture (CSA) is growing in Connecticut, providing customers and farmers with a local alternative to traditional methods of buying and selling produce.
There are 102 CSA farms in Connecticut, according to statistics from the USDA. Holcomb Farm in Granby, which began its program in 1994, was the first CSA farm in the state.
“A CSA program is more than food,” Jim Lofink, executive director of Holcomb Farm, said. “It has a lifestyle impact.”
At CSA farms, produce is often picked up at the farms and sometimes harvested by customers. The CSA model increases the direct contact consumers have with farmers and farm operations.
“We enjoy being that connection for people,” said Lisa Griffin, who works in education and sales at Oxen Hill Farm in Suffield.
At a CSA farm, customers purchase “shares” before the beginning of the growing season and receive ripe produce each week for the duration of that season. The prospect of fresh, local produce is a significant a draw for many CSA farms.
“We essentially tripled our business from our first year to our second year,” Griffin said.
Oxen Hill Farm had 30 shares for sale in 2009, their first CSA season. They have 150 total shares this year.
Lofink said Holcomb Farm draws in customers from more than 20 towns and from as far away as Southington to pick-up their fresh produce.
In addition to providing the consumers with a fresh, local product, the CSA model also creates a more stabilized income for farms because shares are purchased at a set rate at the beginning of a growing season. Instead of selling individual pieces or set amounts of produce as a commodity, and dealing with the vagaries of supply and demand, CSA farms have a steady and standard income.
Ed Wazer, of Shundahai Farm in Mansfield, said “a huge demand for CSA” and a struggle to find long-term outlets for the farm’s products last year led to begin applying CSA concepts to his farm.
CSA farms can also be used as an educational tool to share the ups and downs of farming – from the bumper crops to the small harvests - with their customers.
Lofink said following the CSA model allows farms to be more cost effective in their operations. While traditional farms that sell to distributors grow a few high-value crops each season, CSA farms grow a wide variety of produce. He said CSA optimizes the financial value of a property, which is especially beneficial because agriculture is a business of margins.
CSA farming has drawn many types of farmers to the program. The Griffin family of Oxen Hill Farm has been farming in the area since 1647. Shundahai Farm is entering its third year of operation.
“We wanted the non-cubicle life,” Wazer said of one of the reasons he and his partner, Raluca Mocanu, quit their engineering jobs and began farming.
Their desire to provide healthier for their children and to be in a better position to criticize the farm industry are two of the primary reasons the couple went into farming. Wazer said he and Mocanu consider themselves environmentalists first.
Regardless of personal motivations and family histories, farms, farmers and customers are flocking to CSA programs.
“People really respond to the movement,” Wazer said.
Many CSA farms are also committed to reducing the use of pesticides and other chemicals. Oxen Hill, Holcomb and Shundahai all make concentrated efforts to keep their produce as natural as possible.
All three farms also have some shares available, but said they are moving quickly. To find a CSA farm near you, use the list below:
Oxen Hill Farm, located at 1434 Hill St. in Suffield.
Shundahai Farm, located at 253 Maple Rd. in Mansfield.
Earthtone Farms, located at 309 Palisado Ave. in Windsor.
Down to Earth CSA, part of the Bob White Farm, located at 5 Michelec Rd. in Stafford.
Scantic Valley Farm, located at 327 Ninth District Rd. in Somers.
Holcomb Farm, located at 111 Simsbury Rd. in West Granby.
Windham Gardens, located at 87 Notch Rd. in Granby.
The USDA recommends LocalHarvest’s CSA farm locator to find more CSA farms near you.