CSA (community supported agriculture) is a relatively new phenomenon in the U.S. introduced in the early to mid-1980s. Thanks to the introduction by Robyn Van En at Indian Line Farm in S. Egremonot, MA, the CSA concept in North America was born.
WHAT IS A CSA?
In Massachusetts nearly every town has a CSA community that consists of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation so that the farmland becomes the community’s farm. Typically, members, often called “share holders” of the farm pledge in advance to cover the anticipated costs of the farm and the farmer’s salary. Also, the share holders share the risks as well; poor harvests due to bad weather, pests and the like.
The big picture promises better produce and selection with farm to table choices that have not spent their lives in box cars and gassed beyond consumptive value.
The partnership between farmer and consumer gained much support throughout those first years with Indian Line Farm season featuring a small apple orchard operation. The following years introduced more produce to the community by offering membership. A few years later Indian Line Farm that started out with 30 members expanded to 150. According to Just Food, an advocacy group in New York City that builds leadership training about community needs. the concept of sharing with the farmer gained strong support so now there are over 1,000 CSAs that feed over 150,000.
So, you ask How does this relate to Malden?
CSA gardening offers the public a new way to invest in local agriculture, support the environment, and cut down the miles from food to plate.
One of the salient reasons to grow our own food was to invest in our own health by eating well,exposing our children early on to a variety of regional produce that’s grown right in their own back yard, and to have our very own version of a CSA. The excitement of watching the look on young children’s faces for the first time as they watched sprout the seeds they started was priceless.
By using a hands on approach we satisfied our desire for self sustenance and the opportunity to get to know first hand how much work actually goes into raising your own healthy food; what kinds of teaching moments are available to all, and what kinds of structures would we have in place to make the transition to eating local. And overall, how much would it cost to take matters into our own hands.
Would it be worth it? The end of the season will tell.
Walking three houses down the street was a “no-brainer” said Rick, father of two boys, Kieran, six and Finn, four. The boys were asked what kind of vegetables would they like to see growing in their new garden. “Cawwats, cawwats and lots of cawwats” exclaims Finn. “What would you like do to in the garden” I asked, and they both said they wanted to plant potatoes.
Our very own version of a CSA was simply to agree on our set of rules in which the two families would pick up the cost of supplies and part of the water bill, and learn how to maintain. Bonnie has all the required gardening tools and amenities including Ms. Tooley, the custom, Mediterranean blue, tool shed that lends character and charm to the gardening experience. Once a list of vegetables all agreed upon, I picked up 20 bags of organic soil, plants, started many vegetables from seed and planted the garden.
We now have tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, basil, parsley, garlic, squashes, cucumbers, arugula and several lettuces as well as herbs. Warm weather and water are the next two ingredients in short supply these days, but maintenance is part of the solution.
One recent Saturday Finn and Kieran were invited to help plant potatoes. After a 100-pound burlap, coffee bean sack was loaded with soil, and holes were cut all over the sides, the boys pushed little potato eyes through all the holes. Well watered, the drenched sack awaited the magical transformation! Two weeks later, a much welcome surprise awaited the two little gardeners. Green sprouts from all the holes! As for Finn, his “cawwats” also sprouted-three-rows worth!
The take aways from starting our version of a hands-on family CSA garden are that we are growing local, growing organic, eating healthy and showing fledgling farmers a format to socialize as well as learn how to be the future stewards of the land.
We are calling our garden Ratatouille because all the ingredients of this Southern Provencal dish are being grown right here in Malden. Ratatouille’s ingredients are eggplants, peppers, tomatoes, summer squash, potatoes and garlic, all of which are ready in the garden at the same time, and turned into a nutritious meal consumed hot or cold.
–By Bonnie Blanchard