Many locals are pushing aside their grocery carts and subscribing to a farm-to-fork service. Community-supported agriculture (CSA) services have sprouted over the past year, with the growing demand for farm-fresh produce. CSA’s allow farmers to sell to the public directly, traditionally through subscription services and farmers markets.
“The CSA model creates a direct connection between farmers and eaters,” explained Gordan Jenkins and Vera Fabian of Ten Mother’s Farm. Often relying on CSA’s, subscription fees allow farms to operate and ready the crops while guaranteeing customers freshly harvested produce.
The 2020 pandemic changed how farmers reached their customers. “This past year, the CSA’s have exploded as an innovative way to figure out COVID,” Corly Jones, market manager of Hillsborough’s Eno River Farmers Market, sat down with to discuss the transformation of local CSAs. “Overnight, grocery shopping became risky or uncertain. People would venture into a grocery store and see shortages, and not just toilet paper.”
Farmers quickly pivoted, establishing online storefronts and expanding their services through local partnerships. Farms like Coon River Creek have created online platforms, allowing customers to browse virtual aisles of produce, a welcomed change for those wanting locally-grown goods but not ready to venture out to a market. The traditional subscription box has since been overshadowed by the CSAs offering a variety of products. Many farms have created boxes similar to Fieldstone Garden’s ‘choose what you love’ CSA, giving customers the opportunity to add on products from numerous local farms and businesses.
“People can order produce from the farmer as well as bread and meat and cheese,” explained Jones. “You’ve got [multiple] vendors all in one CSA.” Beyond the meat and potatoes, non-produce businesses are also part of the CSA family. Flower farms such as Orlaya Flora and Mighty Tendril are two Orange County farms blooming with success.
Farmers have also reformed their delivery methods, adding porch pickups, contactless delivery, and establishing new venues for drive-up service. “Our CSAs are so popular we have what’s called a pavilion pickup,” said Jones. “[Customers who] have ordered and prepaid for their [weekly] produce can pull up to the pavilion, and I put it in their trunk.”
The impact of CSAs goes beyond that of convenience. The economic blow of the pandemic has brought an increased awareness to food-insecurities. A partnership between the farmers market’s CSAs and federal nutrition programs has allowed customers to get more fresh produce for their money.
“Our farmers market has always been able to double all SNAP/WIC/FMNP benefits,” explained Jones. “When we were closed down, I was always very concerned about those customers, how are they going to get this fresh food that they’ve come to know. We were able to do that online with CSAs.”
More than ever, people are looking for ways to invest locally and eat healthier. Those wanting to explore Orange County CSAs can browse online at localharvest.org or contact a nearby farmers market.