Monday, April 19, 2010

A Day on the Farm

I've been a member of Lancaster Farm Fresh CSA for a couple years and this summer I am a volunteer working with them.  CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture.  When you become a member in a CSA you are essentially buying a share of the farm.  By paying for your share of the season's harvest up front, local smaller farmers have a cash flow that allows them to concentrate on the land.  It also connects you to your local small farmer in a way that goes well beyond what you get even at a Farmer's Market.  You get to know your farmers and follow their harvest.  Their successes and their failures - and a stronger understanding what the real people impact those failures have.  I remember one year I didn't see one green pepper in all season because an entire field of them was wiped out in less than one day by a hail storm.

Those not familiar with CSA, the way most work is that the farm deliver boxes of produce to select pick-up points each week where members come and pick up their goodies.  Some CSAs have pick ups right at the farms for those it is convenient for and I have seen those kinds of CSAs also have pick-you-own for those members who want to get their hands dirty.  I would love to take advantage of one of those one day, but I a tried & true city dweller - I haven't even owned a car in over ten years (which is why mom drove me out the 2 hours to our destination).

This year I will be helping man one of those pick-up locations in Philadelphia.  A bonus for volunteering my time is that I got to go out to Lancaster, tour the warehouse, & meet some of the farmers who provide the organic and delicious produce.  I believe the farmers we met, Aaron & Levi, are Mennonite (although may be Amish - I am not so well versed in differences).  Being that I grew up & now live not far from "Amish Country" and shop regularly at the Reading Terminal Market (where a number of Amish have farm and food stands), I am somewhat ashamed that I know so little about the culture and have had almost no interaction with individuals of either faith.  I remember going to Dutch Wonderland with my parents and seeing the Amish children playing just like my brother and me, just dressed very differently.  I really enjoyed meeting the farmers.  I don't know why I was surprised that they were personable and gregarious.  They and the land they worked gave off a relaxed happiness... everything just seemed to be in its place - the people, the animals, the crops - all creating a symbiotic harmony.  One really cool characteristic of both Aaron & Levi is that while they live & work in ways steeped in tradition, they are both very innovative while still honoring and staying true to their traditions.  Both have created ways to improve on harvesting, cleaning, and packing on their farms.

Mom & I had noticed a number of bbq's setting up on our way to the warehouse.  Seems Lancaster a number of oranizations run Saturday bbq's as fundraisers.  On our way home we stopped at a local fire company to pick up some freshly bbq'ed chicken.  The smell was wafting across the streets we were driving and we just couldn't resist.  We pulled up and they even brought the chicken right to our car.  When I got home I couldn't wait to tuck into it.  The meat just came right off the bones, the skin was crisp and tasty.  This chicken may even be worth the hour and half drive from the city.

That night must have been one of the noisiest nights in a long time.  The guy downstairs was having a birthday celebration (which he gave me a heads up about, but once it hit 3:30am I had to txt him a request to bring it down) and the kids in the dorm across the way were just going more insane than normal.  I couldn't help but wish for the calm of the country.  I actually looked up rent for the area... seems I could get a large 2-3 bedroom with a yard for what I am paying now in rent.  Of course I'd need a car and I wouldn't be in the city, but at that moment I was ready to go.  I even looked up synagogues in the area and to my surprise there is both a reform & conservative synagogue.  I don't know if I could handle living out in the country, but I could have the chickens and goats I've always wanted.  Maybe one day.

Here are some great resources to help you eat local in the Philly area.  If you live outside Philly, just Google the following for your area: CSA, Community Supported Agriculture, buying clubs, and farmers market.

Farm to City
Farm to Philly
Food Trust

If you have any questions about being involved with a CSA or anything else about eating local, please feel free to post your questions here or email me.  Even if I don't have the answers, I will try to point you in the right direction.  Eating local is something I really believe in.  Knowing where your food is coming from and who is producing it is important to me.  I rather eat food produced on a small farm where I can ask the farmer at the market how the food is grown or the animals raised than food produced on a huge "factory" farm with a generic "organic" label on it.


  1. this is a great idea- we have some sort of similar things in Aus but would love to see them on a wider scale!

  2. Best thing you can do is become a member and get your friends to join. These kind of things only survive if the community demands it and actively supports it.