by lyle e davis
It started back around the early 1960’s in Germany, Switzerland and Japan. Someone got the bright idea that it would be neat to have good, healthy and fresh food, directly from the farmer.
They expanded that idea to include a subscription list of supporters who would agree to advance funds at the beginning of the growing season so the farmer(s) would be able to plan for the amount and type of crops to plant and work each growing season. At harvest time, each subscriber would share in the production proportionately by, usually, picking up a sack or basket of fruit and/or vegetables at a drop point.
This concept became known as the Community Support Agriculture System (CSA).
This basic idea all came about because folks were concerned about food safety and the urbanization of agricultural land. Groups of consumers and farmers in Europe formed cooperative partnerships to fund farming and pay the full costs of ecologically sound and socially equitable agriculture.
In 1965, mothers in Japan concerned about the rise of imported food and the loss of arable land started the first CSA projects, called teikei in Japanese - most likely unrelated to the developments in Europe.
The idea took root in the United States in 1984, when Jan Vander Tuin brought the concept of CSA to North America from Europe.
Over the last 20 years, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) has become a popular way for consumers to buy local, seasonal food directly from a farmer.
Community supported farms have been organized throughout North America, mainly in the Northeast, the Pacific coast, the Upper-Midwest, and Canada. North America now has at least 1,300 CSA farms, with estimates ranging as high as 3,000.
In North San Diego County, we have identified four primary sources of CSA farms.
Morningsong Farms, in Rainbow, near Fallbrook.
Be Wise Ranch, Escondido
Garden of Eden, Escondido
J. R. Organics, Escondido
Shortly, we’ll look at each of these CSA farms individually.
|A typical CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Farm. This photo, and at lower right is just one of many small gardens at Morning Song Farm in Rainbow
With each of the above farms, individuals, families or groups do not pay for x pounds or kilograms of produce, but rather support the budget of the whole farm and receive weekly what is seasonally ripe. This approach eliminates the marketing risks and costs for the producer and an enormous amount of time, often manpower too, and allows producers to focus on quality care of soils, crops, animals, co-workers — and on serving the customers. There is financial stability in this system which allows for thorough planning on the part of the farmer.
Some farms are dedicated entirely to their CSA, while others also sell through on-farm stands, farmers' markets, and other channels. Most CSAs are owned by the farmers, while some offer shares in the farm as well as the harvest. Some CSAs have evolved into social enterprises employing a number of local staff, improving the lot of local farmers and educating the local community about organic/ecologically responsible farming.
Typically, CSA farms are small, independent, labor-intensive, family farms. By providing a guaranteed market through prepaid annual sales, consumers essentially help finance farming operations. This allows farmers to not only focus on quality growing, it can also somewhat level the playing field in a food market that favors large-scale, industrialized agriculture over local food.
Vegetables and fruit are the most common CSA crops. Many CSAs practice ecological, organic or biodynamic agriculture, avoiding pesticides and inorganic fertilizers. The cost of a share is usually competitively priced when compared to the same amount of vegetables conventionally-grown, partly because the cost of distribution is lowered.
CSA members purchase only what the farm is able to successfully grow and harvest, sharing some of the growing risk with the farmer. If the strawberry crop is not successful, for example, the CSA member will share the burden of the crop failure by receiving fewer or lower quality strawberries for the season.
An advantage of the close consumer-producer relationship is increased freshness of the produce, because it does not have to be shipped long distances. The close proximity of the farm to the members also helps the environment by reducing pollution caused by transporting the produce.
Here are the basics: a farmer offers a certain number of "shares" to the public. Typically the share consists of a box of vegetables, but other farm products may be included. Interested consumers purchase a share (aka a "membership" or a "subscription") and in return receive a box (bag, basket) of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season.
A lone llama looks over the CSA Farm at Morning Song Farm in Rainbow
This arrangement creates several rewards for both the farmer and the consumer. In brief...
Advantages for farmers:
• Get to spend time marketing the food early in the year, before their 16 hour days in the field begin
• Receive payment early in the season, which helps with the farm's cash flow
• Have an opportunity to get to know the people who eat the food they grow
Advantages for consumers:
• Eat ultra-fresh food, with all the flavor and vitamin benefits
• Get exposed to new vegetables and new ways of cooking
• Usually get to visit the farm at least once a season
• Find that kids typically favor food from "their" farm – even veggies they've never been known to eat
• Develop a relationship with the farmer who grows their food and learn more about how food is grown.
In the northernmost community of San Diego County, the tiny, rural, unincorporated town of Rainbow is unknown even to most San Diegans. Moderated by ocean breezes and enjoying Southern California's subtropical climate, Morning Song Farm chose to locate here and set up their CCOF (California Certified Organic Farm) which produces a wide variety of subtropical fruits.
For most farmers, the CSA is just one of the ways their produce is marketed. They may also go to the farmers market, do some wholesale, sell to restaurants, etc. Morning Song Farm is a CSA program; they grow a variety of common and unusual subtropical fruits, as well as an amazing array of wonderful vegetables. Each week they deliver baskets of their fantastic produce to subscribers in Riverside, San Diego and Orange counties, California. Currently, they are not selling anything from their farm on a retail basis, outside of their CSA program. They're too busy!
They grow a lot of macadamias; and husk, shell, sort, and package raw, organic macadamias. If you've never enjoyed raw macadamias that have just been freshly cracked out (rather than fried in coconut oil, salted, and stored for who knows how long) you really must try theirs!
They also grow Reed, Pinkerton, Bacon, Toro Canyon, Zutano and Hass avocados, Bears limes, Satsuma mandarins, Nagami kumquats, Asian pears, Ollieberrie blackberries, Boysenberries, Fioja guavas, and several varieties of Figs.
They're experimenting with mangos, passionfruit, loquats, stevia and papayas. They have a small herd of beautiful llamas that contribute daily to their compost pile and soil fertility.
Why Organic, Why Fresh, Why Local?
Why Organic, fresh, local? Farming is a lifestyle; not a factory operation. They are not a factory. Because they don't have stockholders to answer to, they have the freedom to consider alternative forms of profit and loss that might not be considered by a conventional factory farm. Additionally, when a farmer boosts yields by using chemicals that poison the ground water, in what column does that loss get placed? Who pays for the actual cost of those increased yields? It’s not that they could live without the profit that jingles, it's just that as organic farmers, they choose to take into consideration all the profit and losses.
Rain beating down on bare land will wash away precious top soil. Covered with compost, the soil is protected.
The CSA model connects eaters to real farmers in a way no other distribution system can. Farmers’ markets, at least locally, are troubled with "resellers," as well as factory farm practices, employees staffing booths who have never set foot on the farm they represent, and the high cost of inspections that don't do the job they're designed to do. What's more, many markets don't have a reputation for providing organic produce, which has a circular effect of not attracting organic buyers, so when the organic farmers do show up, they get discouraged.
Many small family farms are responding with going directly to the local food supporter in the form of a weekly subscription basket. Subscribers get truly local, "just harvested" freshness. Because subscribers make a commitment, the farmer knows months ahead of time how many customers to plant for, and can cost-effectively take risks with unusual and heirloom vegetables. Produce in a grocery store is often 14 days old and has, on average traveled 1500 (unsustainable) miles, losing nutrition and flavor along the way. Having your organic fruit and vegetables harvested and delivered directly from the farm provides a fresher, tastier alternative.
The reasons for buying locally-produced organic food are compelling. These include the benefits of consuming less pesticides, encouraging the sustainability of local farming, enjoying greater varieties of fruits and vegetables, reducing air pollution and fossil fuel consumption through decreased transportation miles, preserving farmland and open space, and keeping money within the local economy. Grocery store food from half-way around the world can never compete with the benefits of locally grown produce!
How does Morning Song Farm’s CSA Work? As a member of the Morning Song Farm CSA, a weekly basket of fresh fruit and vegetables is delivered to a drop off site near you. You pick up your fabulous basket, brimming with just-harvested fruits and vegetables, and leave last week’s basket in its place. It’s that simple!
As to how Morning Song got started, owner Donna Buono says:
Initially I grew only a few commodities for large wholesale accounts and kept a small organic garden for my family's own use. Then a few friends, admiring the heap of fresh produce on my kitchen counter, asked to be included in my garden's bounty in exchange for helping with the costs of maintaining the garden. Morning Song Farm's CSA has grown from there. I continue to grow the things I think my kids and friends will enjoy! Although more expensive, I prefer heirloom vegetable seeds and am always trialing new seeds to compare and test. One part of my job that I’m passionate about is hunting down unusual heirloom seeds and trying new varieties in the garden. We also have a number of unusual fruit trees, as well as the common fruits you see often in the grocery stores.
At Morning Song, the ratio of fruit to vegetables changes each week.
In the orchard we have blackberries, fioja guavas, apples, peaches, plums, apricots, Mexican guavas, oranges, avocados, macadamias, and more. Supporters have to love being part of the ebb and flow of a local, just-picked harvest, as opposed to walking into a grocery store and buying off the shelf from near and far. We like to think that our supporters are more than vegetable/fruit buyers, but rather passionate, committed, Community Supported Agriculture participants. There's a big difference between a CSA supporter and a simple buyer of produce who wants to know how many pieces of fruit or vegetables, or what ratio of the two, they're going to be getting per dollar each week. Last summer there were weeks when we were inundated with tomatoes and had no avocados, and weeks when we had no lettuce but plenty of zucchini. In that sense, we're not unlike a giant garden. I'm proud of our consistent variety and mix, and think no CSA is as fantastic as Morning Song Farms!
Delia, a volunteer at Morning Song Farm
Some weeks have more than other weeks, which parallels the garden's productivity. Becoming a CSA supporter is a good fit for those who want the next best thing to growing their food themselves but unlike a grocery delivery service, the garden has its ups and downs, and our supporters share in the abundance and the disappointments.
Morning Song Farms offers:
Small: baskets at $34.50 x 13 week = $448.50, half that for bi-weekly pick-ups.
Large Baskets:: $44.50 x 13 weeks = $578.50, half that for bi-weeklies
Presently, Morning Song has drop off points in Oceanside. They are interested in setting up drop points in Escondido, San Marcos, Vista and Carlsbad. If interested, contact Donna Buono at 949.310.4870, or by email at: email@example.com
Another CSA farm is Be Wise Ranch, located at 20505 San Pasqual Road, in Escondido. They are available by phone at at 760.746.6006, by their website at:
http://bewiseranch.com or by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Presently, they have two share plans available for their CSA subscribers. The large share, which typically provides a week's supply of produce for a large family or for three or four adults, costs $30.00 per week. With a large share, you would receive 10-15 items shown on the harvest calendar each week, with the content varying by season. For example, a large share might contain: 10 tomatoes, two avocados, five oranges, three lemons, green beans, squash, beets and carrots. For smaller families, they also offer a small share, which costs $25.00 per week. With a small share, which would supply weekly produce for two adults and a child, you would receive fewer items and/or a smaller amount of an item.
Be Wise has pick up points:
in Escondido at Via Rancho Parkway and San Pasqual Road
on Thursdays from 10:00-5:30 PM. In Vista, at Melrose and Vista Way, on Tuesdays from 3:30-6:30 PM. In Carlsbad at Carlsbad Blvd. & Palomar Airport Road on Tuesday from 3:00-6:00PM. (This pickup point is full, however. They are not accepting any new subscribers for this pickup point).
If interested, contact: Bill Brammer or Sandra Broussard at the contact points listed above, or email: email@example.com
Yet another CSA farm in North County, J. R. Organics, is in Valley Center but is quite active in Escondido, participating every Tuesday in their Farmer’s Market with one of the largest produce booths of the Market. J.R. Organics is a certified organic vegetable farm located on the beautiful rolling hills of Valley Center in San Diego County, CA. The land was pioneered by the Rodriguez family in the early 1950’s, and is now farmed by Joe, Jr., 4th generation farmer. J R Organics is an old fashioned truck farm where at any given time of the year several different types of fruits and vegetables are being grown, many of them heirlooms. They farm about 35 acres and have about 450 subscribers.. They grow principally vegetables, the only fruits being melons, crenshaws, and strawberries. Once a year they offer a tour of the farm to their subscribers.
They offer a large box, weekly, at a cost of $29.50, a small box for $23.00.
For more information you can contact them at 714.235.3219 or by their website at: www.jrorganicsfarm.com or email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Their North County drop points are:
Grangettos Farm and Garden Supply, 1105 W. Mission Ave, Escondido, CA - Thursdays from 10:30am-5:00pm
The Escondido Farmers Market - Downtown Escondido on Grand Avenue Between Kalmia & Juniper. Open Tuesdays 3:30pm - 7:00pm (May 1–September 30)
2:30pm-–6:00pm (October 1–April 30)
The Be Wise CSA Farm in Escondido
Cal State San Marcos Farmers Market - Cal State University San Marcos (CSUSM)
333. S. Twin Oaks Valley Rd.
San Marcos, CA
Parking lot B
Wednesdays from 3:00 to 7:00 p.m 760-594-2974
High Tech High North County (HTHNC) - 1420 W San Marcos Blvd. San Marcos, CA
Thursday delivery from 11:30-5:00
San Elijo Hills - San Marcos, CA Near Questhaven & San Elijo Rd
Thursdays from 11:00-6:00pm
Warmlands Ave. -Vista, CA Located near Warmlands & Elm
Wednesdays from 12:00-7:00pm
Finally, we have Garden of Eden, also located in Escondido at 1221 Calvin Lane. It is a small farm, only two acres, but they contract with between 13 and 16 local small farmers so there is often a very wide variety of produce. In addition, they are adding another 10 acres to farm, soon.
Jennifer and Paul Trejo are in their 6th year of operating a CSA farm. Garden of Eden is different from a tradtional, one-farm CSA. They are a co-op of small farms, including JR Organic Farm in Valley Center, Sage Mountain Farm in Hemet, and other local, organic, family farms, both within and outside the county.
Though they are a relatively small farm, they have about 300 subscribers and think they would likely “max out” at 500 subscribers.
Eden Farms does not do Farmer’s Markets. “Those wind up being 16 hour days,” says Jennifer. We find the CSA farm concep hepls the farmer work better and more efficiently and deliver more produce to the consumer.
They offer three different sizes of boxes for subscribers:
Individual box for seniors/students,
A small family box, serving 2/3 people, and a large box, serving 4 or more people.
Typically, a box will feature up to 15-16 items each week.
Current drops sites are:
Carlsbad: Thursday, 3 to 5pm, National Multiple Sclerosis Society, 5950 La Place Court, Suite 200, 760.448.8409
Escondido: Fridays 5-6pm; Stone Brewing Company, 1999 Citracado Parkway
If you’d like a drop site in your city and/or would like to become a drop site, call for details at 760.994.5861. Ask for Jennifer or Paul . . . or email to: email@example.com
Garden of Eden Farm is located at 1221 Calvin Ln, Escondido, CA. You’ll find their website at: http://www.goeorganics.com
The CSA (Community Supported Agricultural) farms all operate under the same basic concept, with only minor variations.
Simply stated, CSA is the community and farmer working together on behalf of the earth and each other.
By picking up your ripe, freshly picked produce at a central drop site, you save time and costs associated with shopping at a local supermarket where the produce was picked days ago, unripe, from as far as 2000 miles away or more.
We’ve given you the background on a number of CSA farms here in North San Diego County.
Now it’s up to you. Check them out. Go to their websites. Give them a call. Some farms have a trial package for a month; others have a variation on that, some require a 13 week commitment. Usually, there are no refunds . . . but policies vary from CSA Farm to another.
In any event, you now know where to go for the freshest of fruit and vegetables. We expect each of you to become enormously healthy within the next year. We’ll check back in one year from now to see how you’re doing.