Farm to City Food Model a Win-Win

March 18, 2012 Updated: September 29, 2015
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Peter Kavakos helps harvest tomatoes at Stoneledge Farm last fall. (Courtesy of Stoneledge Farm)

NEW YORK—An increasingly popular model of food delivery known as community-supported agriculture groups (CSAs) is allowing local farmers to thrive and New Yorkers to get a variety of great produce for a reasonable price every week for six months of the year.

“In the beginning of the season there’s a lot of lettuce and leafy greens,” said Deborah Kavakos, co-owner of Stoneledge Farm. “But then, as the season progresses, tomatoes and eggplant and peppers, and then summer squash, and then into the fall things change.”

New Yorkers can purchase a share from one of the more than 100 CSAs in the city that a farm like Stoneledge provides for in the spring. At a nearby location,

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A sample summer vegetable share including red ace beets, hungry round heirloom peppers, a basket of sun gold cherry tomatoes, and broccoli. (Courtesy of Stoneledge Farm)

beginning in late May or early June, New Yorkers can then pick up a box of fresh food every week.

“We really do try to hit six to eight vegetables and one herb and make it a nice variety of stuff for the members each week,” said Kavakos.

Stoneledge supplies 1,400 shares to its 19 different CSAs with vegetables for 24 weeks. They also have an optional fruit share. Almost all of the produce from the 200-acre certified organic farm, located just south of Albany, goes to a CSA.

“We are harvesting a day beforehand,” said Kavakos, who has been supplying CSAs in the city since 1996. “We wash it and pack it and bring it to their community location— so it’s very fresh. Other than having your own home garden, it’s about as fresh as you can get.”

Stable Income

People buying shares of their harvest before it’s grown gives farmers financial stability.

“Farmers really appreciate knowing who they’re growing their food for,” said Paula Lukats, CSA in NYC Program manager for Just Food, a nonprofit that seeks to make fresh, locally grown food accessible to all New Yorkers. “They know that when they plant things and as the season goes they have a market for something; that when they bring their full truck to the city they’re going to go home with an empty truck.”

“CSAs give you a nice flush of money at the beginning of the season, before you actually can start making money at the farmer’s markets, and that helps you actually buy your seed and get your supplies ready,” explained Jen McGlashan, co-owner of Channery Hill Farm, which runs its own CSA with a drop of point at the Atlantic Theater.

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McGlashan adds homemade canned goods like pesto, jams, jellies, and pickles in with fresh food for variety and shelf life. It also helps pad out weeks when unforeseen events occur, like three flash floods last year.

Connecting farms to the city

For those with a hankering for some meat, rib-eyed steak, pork, lamb, and turkey are options Lewis Waite Farm offers, available for order through various CSAs. And, they deliver to the city.”

“There are farms all ringing around New York City and we’re all willing to bring our food there, because all of our neighbors have their own gardens, or somebody knows somebody who raises beef, so there isn’t as much call for what we grow right around us,” said co-owner Nancy Brown. “So for the folks in New York City you could get local fresher food than at your corner store delivered [to you].

Statewide, there are 368 CSAs, while the city now has more than 100. Manhattan has 43, from Battery Park City to Washington Heights.

However, farms need a way to connect with buyers inside the city. Enter the nonprofit Just Food.

“We would not be in New York City without Just Food,” said Kavakos of Stoneledge Farm. “Because if you think of a farm sitting in upstate New York, how the heck do you make that connection?”

Just Food began developing CSAs in 1995.

“People’s understanding and knowledge of what CSA is and how it works has grown so much, particularly in the past four years,” said Paula Lukats of Just Food. “The number of CSAs has exploded in the city, and farmers who are interested in marketing to a CSA have grown a lot.”

From 41 in 2006, the number of CSAs in the city has climbed to 105 in 2011. More than 35,000 New Yorkers got produce through Just Food CSAs last year.

“In general, the idea of a CSA has come to be more mainstream as a concept and less of an oddity,” said Brooke Saias, farm project coordinator for Katchkie Farm, which runs multiple CSAs, including one in Hell’s Kitchen. “I think when people have grown to love it and realized the benefits of it, they’re hooked for life.”


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