Community Supported Agriculture benefits both consumers, farmers

Tired of the overpriced, wilted greens and rotten tomatoes you find yourself relentlessly purchasing at Dave's or Giant Eagle? Feeling pressured to meet your recommended daily vitamin intake, but see none of the fresh, crispy produce that you would love to crunch into? It may be about time that students look toward other, more reliable sources for their grocery needs. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) can feed our cravings and keep our wallets full.

Students have a bad reputation for eating microwaveable meals and ordering delivery regularly, but is it really our fault when the produce we crave is just bad quality? The answer to our problems may not require a journey around the world (the trip that most of our supermarket produce makes). Northeast Ohio can provide us with affordable, tasty produce while reducing carbon dioxide emissions and limiting the use of pesticides.

CSAs offer food subscriptions to the public through a farm membership. The membership entitles you to weekly allotments of fresh produce from the farm to which you are subscribed. In just the Northeast Ohio region, there are an expected 3350 allotments available this year.

CSA members pledge support to the farm, making the farm the community's responsibility; the farmer and consumers take part in both the risks and benefits of food production. The members of the farm pledge to cover the anticipated costs of food production as well as the farmer's salary. In return, members receive allotments of the seasonal harvest and experience working on a farm.

Unique to the Ohio area, Amish farmers, in addition to small farms in the region, participate in CSAs. About 400 of the expected available allotments for this year will come from Amish communities, benefiting both the consumer and the farmer. Amish farms generate fresh produce and products, benefiting the consumer. In turn, the farmer receives a steadier income that helps avoid debt that small farms often accumulate.

Cutting the middlemen out of the food business helps to keep local food prices low; farmers see more of a profit while the consumer pays a lower price. However, one new middleman-type player in the CSA market is Cleveland's Fresh Fork Market. This is a virtual farmer's market that allows the farmer to connect with the buyer over the Internet. Farmers list their available products on the Fresh Fork site and consumers place an order for their weekly allotment. What makes Fresh Fork different from the average middleman is that they provide a free service; consumers only pay the price of the product they order without a minimum or surcharge.

Utilizing the CSA or Fresh Fork program may seem complicated and inconvenient, but if students can organize their grocery lists with friends or roommates, ordering from the CSA or over the Internet can prove to be less costly. Knowing where and how our food is grown can help us connect with our environment and understand the farming process.

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