Demand For Local Food Boosts Year-Round CSAs

12/29/10 5:50PM By Susan Keese
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(Host) The demand for locally grown food has challenged farmers in the Northeast to find ways of providing produce year-round. And customers are investing in those efforts by paying in advance for weekly shares of winter greens, eggs, root vegetables and more.

As VPR's Susan Keese reports, Winter Community Supported Agriculture ventures - or  CSAs - are on the rise.

(Keese) Andy Knafel of Clear Brook Farm in Shaftsbury fills a bucket with black beans that have been drying in one of his greenhouses.

They're part of the late-season bounty his CSA shareholders will reap when they come for this week's pickup.

(Knafel) "Yeah there's popcorn and black beans and potatoes and sweet potatoes and carrots and this is our cooler."

(Keese) There are also storage crops like rutabaga and cabbage, and extras like eggs or milk from a local dairy.

Knafel's farm stand, which closes in November, has always been the major outlet for his produce.  In 2007 he added the winter CSA.

Like the more familiar summer CSAs that helps farmers pay up front for spring planting, winter CSAs are a subscription service. Customers pay in advance for pickups of fresh food for a set number of weeks. Knafel's runs into January.  Others, like the one run by Pete's Greens in Craftsbury, go all winter long.

Knafel says his winter CSA has allowed him to offer his farm workers something closer to year-round work.

It's also challenged him to expand his growing season.

(Knafel) "We have lots of row covers that sort of thing, and then we move into harvesting out the greenhouses. The stuff we grow in the green houses, bok choy, different types of lettuce, and spinach is probably the number one favorite."

(Keese) Clear brook farm is one of at least 50 winter CSA's that have cropped up in Vermont over the past five or six years.

Observers say recent food safety scares, plus a new awareness of the cost of transporting food long distances, have helped fuel the demand for local foods- and provided new opportunities for farmers to realize a year-round income.

Jean Hamilton is with the New England Organic Farming Association of Vermont.

(Hamilton) "There's a lot of innovation around hoop houses and root cellars and other cold storage and also growing practices that are allowing for more off season production."

And just as CSAs are diversifying seasonally, they're diversifying their products, too.

Burlington's Intervale Food Hub has a winter CSA which includes products from a multi-farm collaborative: grains, oils, bread, cheese, syrup, pork, beef, lamb....

(Woman) "There's nothing like a good fresh potato!" 

(Woman)"Look at this one! It's in the shape of a heart."

Jack Mannix of Walker Farms in Dummerston, says his winter CSA is different from his summer business.

(Walker) "People are so into it... it's a social thing. They're feeling so connected to the local food movement."

(Keese) Beatrice Fletcher of Putney seems to sum it up for everyone here. In the wintertime, *this is the highlight of her week.

(Fletcher) "It's a great treat in the wintertime to get fresh stuff."

For VPR News, I'm Susan Keese.

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