Thank Your Farmers!

these two-bite indigo tomatoes are picked daily by the interns

these two-bite indigo tomatoes are picked daily by the interns

Because our food is so accessible and often does not resemble actual food, it is easy to forget the farmers who grow our produce. Organic farmers work incredibly hard, doing almost everything manually and taking pains to ensure our food is fresh, ethically produced and picked at the peak of freshness so it is as nutritious as possible. Buying food from a farmers’ market or CSA is an easy way to put your money back into the local economy and support the farmers in your community.

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is an über-local, grassroots-style market. Community members purchase food shares from a nearby farm and pick up a basket of produce each week. Thousands of family farms depend on CSA programs and their customers depend on the produce these farms provide.

In the 1960’s, consumers in Germany, Switzerland and Japan felt the encroachment of industrial agriculture and wanted to secure local food for their families. They began paying local farmers as a guarantee of fresh produce and to ensure family farms could stay afloat. And thus, the CSA movement was born.  CSAs spread to the U.S. twenty years later and today, thousands of farms are supported by their neighbors and share their bounty of fair and fresh food.

 I visited a farm in Boulder, Colorado to learn more about CSAs. Cure Organic Farm offers 200 farm shares every summer.  A 20-week medium share feeds 4-5 people and costs $425, which works out to about $21 per week. A typical Cure mid-summer share contains: four peppers, one pound of potatoes, five tomatoes, four summer squash, one bunch of onions, two heads of lettuce, two heads of garlic, two cucumbers, one bunch of carrots and a bunch of basil. Shares vary as the seasons change, so customers can expect a surprise bounty of whatever is ripe each week. When I visited Cure, the tomato season was coming to an end and squash, kale and salad greens were aplenty. CSAs are very affordable—a share of organic produce at the farmers’ market or grocery store would cost two to three times as much! Some farms offer other types of shares, besides vegetables. Fruit shares, egg shares, bread shares, coffee shares and flower shares are also available at Cure. The bread and coffee shares are supplied by a local bakery and coffee shop. This collaboration allows a larger farm like Cure to help smaller businesses distribute their products through the CSA. The community fuels the demand and works together to support these businesses, which keeps consumers’ money in the local food system.

interns harvest 200 pounds of peppers each week in the summer months

interns harvest 200 pounds of peppers each week in the summer months

The CSA program is vital to farms like Cure. There are many up-front costs at the beginning of the growing season before profits are made and CSA fees help the farm sustain itself during this time. In case of a drought or natural disaster, the money customers pre-pay will protect the farm and ensure it will survive. The CSA program is not unlike insurance to the farmers. Cure recognizes how important this support system is and shares the bounty by providing CSA customers extra food, for free, when there is a bumper crop.

Cure hires six interns each spring, who work six 12-hour days per week from April through November. During my visit, Erin and Sam showed me how to harvest and sort tomatoes for market, dividing them into firsts (the best), seconds (sold at a cheaper price) and duds (fed to the pigs). The interns all agreed that the work is exhausting but very rewarding.

Dozens of volunteers find their way to Cure each week. The interns gather every Thursday morning to welcome volunteers and assist them with the day’s project. When I arrived, we sorted hundreds of pounds of tomatoes while another group harvested from the fields. It would have taken the interns the entire day to sort the produce for market, so they were grateful for the extra hands. The work load was tremendous, but the volunteers and interns worked side-by-side, teaching and learning, and the morning passed quickly.

The newest piglets at Cure

The newest piglets at Cure

Each Monday, the interns weed, transplant, irrigate the fields and move the animals. Cure raises Mangalista and Berkshire pigs. The newest bunch, 10 piglets born in July, is a cross between these breeds. They feast on organic grains and any produce not fit to sell. Their meat, sold in the Cure farm store, is full of healthy fats from their organic, free-range diet. Cure also sells free-range chicken and duck eggs. The interns move the poultry daily from pasture to pasture so they always have a fresh place to graze. This “holistic animal management” is natural and sustainable, meaning it mimics the way animals behave in the wild. It is also very healthy for the soil and grass to be constantly rotated—pecked clean by chickens, rested and then pecked clean again.

The interns and farm crew follow the sun, which makes for some very long summer days. On Tuesdays, the crew harvests for the 18 restaurants that purchase produce from Cure, the farm store and the 200 CSA shares. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, the interns sell hundreds of pounds of produce at farmers’ markets in Denver and Boulder. The rest of the week is full of harvesting, weeding, transplanting and irrigation. Sundays are rest days for the crew, but once per month they are on “animal duty” and responsible for moving the chickens and pigs.

Twelve hours a day of manual, outdoor labor is taxing. When I arrived, the interns were in the last quarter of the program and were noticeably tired. Molly said she loves being outside, but the summer months were especially hot and difficult. She was glad the seasons had begun to change, as the cool fall air refreshed our work in the tomato field. The interns were all working at Cure for different reasons—some in between work and school, some hoping to own their own farm, and some of them searching for solace from a technology-filled world. I think Molly spoke for the group when she said working at Cure has taught her to value a simple life and hard work. Though part of her worries what she will do after her eight months is up, Molly said she feels grateful for a unique experience and the opportunity to learn from the land.

You can do many things to support local, organic farms. Find a CSA program in your neighborhood where you can purchase a farm share. Visit a local farmers’ market and be sure to thank the farmers when you see them! You can also volunteer on a farm, visit a farm store, or look for locally grown produce in your grocery store. When you buy local produce, your money supports the local economy and supports farmers who work hard to ensure that healthy, sustainable food is available in your community for years to come.support_farmer

 

Copyright: All content © 2010-2018 Nutrition Strategy Advisors LLC. Photographs © Donna P Feldman, unless otherwise attributed. Reproduction or use without permission is prohibited.