Get your own “personal farmer” with community supported agriculture
By James Rada, Jr. | Photography by Casey Martin
Imagine having your own personal farmer who grows nutritious fruits and vegetables and harvests them the day you pick them up. This farmer deals with the dirt and bad weather to make sure that your food is fresher and more nutritious than what you can buy in a grocery store.
That’s what happens when you participate in community supported agriculture (CSA). It’s a win-win farming concept for both the farmer and consumer.
What is CSA?
A farm offering CSA is essentially selling a share of the crops that the farmer grows. Consumers pay for their share at the beginning of the season and then they get weekly “dividends” based on what the farm harvests throughout the season.
Because a lot of farms are off the beaten path, CSA will sometimes have drop-off points in towns. For instance, St. James Lutheran Church in Gettysburg is a drop off for both Amazing Heart Farm and Broad Valley Orchard.
Elizabeth Weller operates Amazing Heart Farm, a small farm in Orrtanna. She started her farm in 2010 where she offers certified organic foods, such as tomatoes, kale, and raspberries, through CSA.
The concept has been around for about 25 years and continues to grow in popularity because of the benefits it offers both the farmer and consumer. It’s become a popular way for smaller farms to maintain their viability at a time when it’s becoming harder for small- and medium-size farms to make ends meet.
Judy and Thomas Marti of Broad Valley Orchard own the longest-running organic CSA in Adams County. Broad Valley Orchard in Biglerville started operating as CSA in 1998. “Most people who get a CSA share know the value of fresh,” says Judy Marti.
Megan Rulli started Piney Mountain Orchard in Gardners in 2012. She fell in love with farming during an internship after she graduated college. Although the land was previously an orchard, Rulli now grows more vegetables. All of her crops are certified organic.
Why Offer CSA?
For the farmer, CSA means they’ll receive income early in the season when it’s most needed to buy seed, prepare fields, and get ready for the growing season. The more shares the farmer sells, the less time they have to spend during the busiest part of the season selling what’s grown. Instead, the bulk of the marketing is done at the beginning of the season before they reach their busiest time.
Farmers also get to develop closer relationships with the people buying their goods. “CSA allows you to really know the farm,” Rulli says. “You know who you’re supporting and where your food is coming from.”
Weller says one advantage for her is that having a large portion of her farming income upfront helps her budget better for the rest of the season. She doesn’t have to project what her income will be as much as if she had to grow everything before she received income.
Farmers are also able to sell more of what they grow. “We do farmer’s markets, but with a farmer’s market, you take a bunch of food to the market, and you end up bringing back a lot that you either have to sell quickly or get rid of,” Judi Marti says. “With CSA, there’s no waste.”
One big advantage to the farmer is that it reduces the risk for the farm. Consumers pay for their share up front. If the season is good, consumers will get a lot of food for their money. If the growing season is bad for some reason, then the amount of food they receive each week will be reduced. “It’s a mutual commitment,” says Weller. “You agree to provide them with fresh and nutritious food, and they support the farm.”
For their part, consumers get food fresh off the farm. “The biggest difference is that with a CSA it is often cut that day,” says Judi Marti. “It also still has the majority of the vitamins and minerals in it, and that’s what makes it healthy.”
Consumers often get to try out new fruits and vegetables to incorporate into their recipes. Amazing Heart Farm’s website offers recipes for cooking with the food in their weekly shares. Piney Mountain Orchard has a resource page on their website that has everything from recipes to what to expect in a share depending on the season to CSA etiquette.
They even get to visit the farm where their food comes from. Many consumers will pick up their weekly shares from the farm, although some out-of-the-way farms will even offer a farm pick-up discount.
While farmers like CSA, they will still market their goods at farmer’s markets or sell them wholesale. “When you’re a farmer, you have to look at all of the marketing possibilities,” says Judy Marti. Broad Valley Orchard only does CSA currently, but the Martis say they’re scaling back somewhat as they prepare for retirement.
What Can You Get?
CSAs can be found for any type of agricultural operation. Fruits and vegetables are the most common, but there are also CSAs for eggs, dairy products, flowers, and even meats. In the past, Amazing Heart Farm has paired with Itsy Bitsy Acres in Orrtanna to offer eggs, goat milk, and cheese in their shares. They’ve also worked with Gettysburg Baking Company to add bread to their shares. It’s not something that Weller does all of the time, but when the opportunities present themselves, she embraces them to offer her consumers more variety.
While many CSAs only offer seasonal shares, some will offer 12-month shares because they use hoop houses and greenhouses to extend their growing seasons. This means consumers can get fresh produce year round. At Piney Mountain Orchard consumers can buy an extension on their summer share to have vegetables year-round or simply buy a winter or summer share.
The cost of a CSA is generally very close to the price you would pay for the same foods in the grocery store. Amazing Heart Farm has even offered workshares on occasion. Rather than pay for their shares in cash, these consumers agree to work on the farm for a certain number of hours for their shares.
Most CSA farms will also try to solicit input as to what to grow so the consumers get foods they most want to eat. “If people request something, I do my best to accommodate them,” says Weller.
Adams County CSAs
Farms offering CSA can vary from year to year. The ones listed below all offered CSA in 2017. For the most recent farms, check Local Harvest at localharvest.org and The Adams County Local Foods Resource Guide at adamsfoodpolicy.org/LFG2017.pdf.
Amazing Heart Farm
181 Orrtanna Road, Orrtanna
Anam Cara Harvest
1941 A Buchanan Valley Road, Orrtanna
Broad Valley Orchard
1934 Wenksville Road, Biglerville
Good Keeper Farm
250 Old State Road, Gardners
545 Carlisle Road, Biglerville
104 W. Guernsey Road, Biglerville
Orchard Country Produce
and Fruit Farm
1410 Goodyear Road, Gardners
Painted Turtle Farm
Gettysburg College, Gettysburg
Piney Mountain Orchard
197 Coon Road, Gardners
Sycamore Ridge Farm
5860 Old Harrisburg Road,
Tuckey’s Mountain Grown
290 Wenksville Road, Biglerville