York, PA - Beth Weaver-Kreider's garage is packed with bins, scales and tables draped with checkered linens. Soon, what looks like a setup for a garage sale will feature fresh garden vegetables.
Weaver-Kreider, along with her husband, Jon, has owned and operated Goldfinch Farm in Lower Windsor Township since 2004. Today, the couple grow vegetables for more than 220 shareholders through their community-supported agriculture partnership.
Weaver-Kreider said that although CSAs have been around since the '70s, there has been a recent peak in interest.
"Definitely in the last five years there's been a rise in people wanting to know what's in their food," she said. She said food scares and films such as "Food, Inc." have also raised awareness of the movement to eat locally.
A CSA is a business model for farms, Weaver-Kreider said. Since customers sign up to pay for their entire share before the growing season, farmers have capital to grow the crops.
Elaine Lemmon, owner of Everblossom Farm in Reading Township, Adams County, orders her seeds in the dead of winter.
She encourages shareholders to let her know if there's a vegetable they'd like her to add. She grows about 50 types of vegetables.
"This winter, one woman emailed me that she found a type of ginger that grows here," she said.
Lemmon said it was her love of soil that made her abandon a career in archaeology to work at an organic farm at the age of 26.
She did an apprenticeship for three years before branching out on her own. Lemmon, now 36, will oversee Everblossom Farm's ninth growing season this year.
The farm had 90 shareholders last year. They pay $500 for 25 weeks of vegetable shares, with an additional 21-week local fruit share available for $150.
Lemmon hopes to expand the number of shareholders to 150 this year, drawing new customers with certified-organic produce and the ability to join at any time during the growing season at a prorated rate.
"I think flavor is a big thing for people, but I think they feel good about supporting the land around them," she said.
The Kreiders also gain additional labor, as most CSA shareholders volunteer two, four-hour shifts during the season to receive a discount on their shares.
In addition, Goldfinch Farm has three part-time employees working 15 to 20 hours a week. Weaver-Kreider said they also barter 30 shares per season for those willing to work 80 hours on the farm.
Sandra Collin of West York grew up with big vegetable gardens and said as an adult she craved the fresh-tasting tomatoes that she couldn't find at a grocery store.
When she searched for a CSA, she wanted a full working share option to make the produce fit her food budget.
"Because I work for myself, I had the freedom to work for food," she said. "It's not as expensive as people think when you do a full- or partial-work share."
She started off doing some of the mowing and picking bugs off plants the first year. Today, she tends to the Kreiders' two children in exchange for a full share of vegetables.
Weaver-Kreider said those involved in the farm's CSA cover a wide demographic, from people barely out of their teens to those in their 80s.
"It's easy to assume everyone here is a liberal foodie, but it's people who want to be aware and connected."
Julie Livingston's husband is a hunter. She said she found herself mainly shopping for fruits and vegetables to accompany the freezer full of meat.
But the Windsor Township woman felt limited in her options, and said that trying to shop for organic produce sometimes felt cost prohibitive.
She said the CSA is both more economical and green.
"We do really enjoy supporting the local farmer instead of agribusiness."
The mother of three young children has been a shareholder at Goldfinch Farm for the past three years and plans to continue for this season.
Livingston said the shares are a good size for her family of five. They start paying the $510 for a full, non-working share at the end of each season. This way, she said, they've paid for the next year by the time June rolls around.
Livingston has also been able to expose her family to different vegetables through the CSA.
"I wouldn't purchase kale normally, but because it is sometimes a large part of our share, we find ways to use it."
That's also the case for Collin.
"My boyfriend had never had a beet that wasn't at a salad bar, pickled," she said. "And a turnip, I never thought I'd like a turnip."
But in the end, Collin said, CSAs are more fulfilling than just getting fresh vegetables. What sets them apart from gardens or farmers markets is the connection with the farmers, other shareholders and the food.
"I'm getting outside. It's a social aspect for me," she said.
"It's like how I should feel about going to the gym."
List of local CSAs
Here is a list of some local CSA farms. Please contact individual farms for rates and availability for the 2012 growing season.
4255 Pierceville Road, Codorus Township;
Miller Plant Farm
430 Indian Rock Dam Road, Spring Garden Township;
1027 Schmuck Road, Lower
4648 Druck Valley Road, Hellam Township;
Horn Farm Center for Agricultural Education
4945 Horn Road, Hellam
4945 Horn Road, Hellam
Kilgore Family Farm
4945 Horn Road, Hellam
385 Locust Lane, Hamilton
Township, Adams County;
6363 Carlisle Pike, Reading
Township, Adams County;
Sycamore Ridge Farm
5860 Old Harrisburg Road,
Huntington Township, Adams County;
387 Iron Bridge Road, East Earl Township, Lancaster County;
-- Source: www.localharvest.org
What is a CSA?
The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines Commuity Supported Agriculture as:
" . . . a community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation so that the farmland becomes, either legally or spiritually, the community's farm, with the growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the risks and benefits of food production.
Typically, members or 'shareholders' of the farm or garden pledge in advance to cover the anticipated costs of the farm operation and farmer's salary. In return, they receive shares in the farm's bounty throughout the growing season, as well as satisfaction gained from reconnecting to the land and participating directly in food production.
Members also share in the risks of farming, including poor harvests due to unfavorable weather or pests. By direct sales to community members, who have provided the farmer with working capital in advance, growers receive better prices for their crops, gain some financial security, and are relieved of much of the burden of marketing."
-- Source: www.nal.usda.gov
What to expect from a CSA share
Goldfinch Farm shares feed two to four people or one to two vegetarians.
Owner Beth Weaver-Kreider said shareholders are getting about $30 to $40 of produce each week for about $25.
A typical August share includes: Six beets, one onion, two cucumbers, one summer squash, 1 1/2 pounds of potatoes, one eggplant, one green pepper, one colored sweet pepper, one head of lettuce, 1 pound of beans, 3 pounds of tomatoes, 1 pint of cherry tomatoes, several hot peppers and four basil sprigs.
Everblossom Farm's shares include about $20 of produce and feature 10 to 12 items each week.
CSA shareholders need to be adventerous in their eating.
"We want to give people some variety," said Beth Weaver-Kreider of Goldfinch Farm. "We're trying to find a balance so it's not just the standards -- tomatoes, carrots and greens."
That is also the case for Elaine Lemmon of Everblossom Farm.
"You just have to have an open mind and an open heart about it," she said. "You can't let food scare you."
Here is a sample of some of the more unique vegetables shareholders will find at Lemmon's farm:
--- Bok Choy
--- Dry beans
--- Spicy Mesclun
--- Swiss Chard
--- Tat Soi
Since many of the vegetables may be new to shareholders, both farms supply recipes in a weekly newsletter.
Lemmon also tells shareholders to purchase a cookbook that includes recipes for cooking in season, she recommends "Simply in Season" by Cathleen Hockman-Wert and Mary Beth Lind.
-- Source: www.everblossomfarm.com