Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Notes from My CSA Conversations

A few Saturdays ago, I spent the morning thinking about CSAs. Luckily all of Ohio was under a thick blanket of snow so I it was easy to reach farmers/ growers. This Saturday, with Cleveland under a ridiculously romantic haze of fog, I finally got around to compiling my information. My conversations were so fascinating, and at first, I thought I would just transcribe and post each conversation. But, I am a synthesizer by career, and it felt more useful to me and to my friends who read this, to draw conclusions about my conversations.

One important theme that came up was uncertainty. When I called Ashbrook Farm, the owner, who was, as he said, “in [his] 84th year,” said he on not sure what his farm’s next move is and as such he was creating a waiting list on CSAs. This was in part due to the increase in feed prices, from three hundred some odd dollars a ton to $575 a ton, or as he said, “grain prices have gone out of sight.” In addition, he discussed that he might need additional labor to make it a go. Snake Hill Farm, who currently does NOT do CSAs, also discussed the uncertainty of their work flow. This Farm is basically 2 women farming on a farm that has been in the family for a few generations. They do not do farm shares as of yet. Savery Fitzgerald explained that right now they have a cadre of interns who appear yearly, but they can’t count on them.

The second clear theme was a connection between the city and the farm. In my area, city and farm can be intertwined. So, perhaps it is better to say, there needs to be a pact—not only verbal, but frankly written in newspapers, blogs, etc—where the city people mandates local food from local farmers. Some of this is the farmer working with their patrons/audience/customers and supplying what is needed. All of the farms talked about this, but I was particularly struck by my conversation with Covered Bridge Farms, who discussed that they choose many different varieties of common vegetables to counteract the zucchini doldrums that happen in some CSAs, and Maple Valley Sugar Bush, who deliver homes in certain portions of greater Cleveland. These marketing tactics only work when the shopper holds up their portion of the bargain—paying the farmer for their work. This, though, requires an educated populace. And, I don’t know that I am even an educated eater. Ashbrook Farm was selling his lovely organic eggs for a meager $2 a dozen to his neighbors. But, his neighbors realized that he could not make a living off his eggs at that price, so together they raised the price. But, then with the higher prices in grain, eggs will get more expensive. And herein lay proof that I need to continue to educate myself. He asked me, if Ashbrook Farm were to sell me eggs at a higher price, what would I pay. And, frankly, I had no idea. I always paid what it cost at the market, without thinking. Now, I had to think about everything that went into my egg—the lifestyle of its mother, the farmer who feed that chicken, the farm that housed that chicken, the food that that hen ate. How would I have any idea what an egg actually costs? By learning about how a farm works and what an egg actually costs. I realize that seems simple, but it takes me to my third lesson.

CSAs make for strange bedfellows politically and socially. Ashbrook Farm spoke quite a lot about the dignity in farming. How can people go on farming in a responsible way when so many things are against them? As a child, my school was an election voting center. I remember learning that republicans believe in small government and people doing for themselves and democrats believe in government regulating business to help the small person. In the mixed up world, the regulation supports the big farmer, who grows TOO much corn, and basically works against the small farmer. Farm subsidies which are depicted as helping a small farmer are helping multinationals. Alright, this is discussed in many books, like Omnivore’s Dilemma, so I don’t need to reiterate this, but my point here is, I have learned, you can’t assume that your politics have actually allied you with small farmers—it might have helped those who make the processed food which you don’t want to eat.

In the end, local farming is about consensus—local people and local farmers together agreeing to pay a respectable, decent price for good food. My conversations were surprisingly empowering, even though we were discussing exactly the same ideas that felt disabling when I read Omnivore’s Dilemma. This was likely in part because I was trying to make a change, rather than reading about changes that I hadn’t made. My conversation Ashbrook Farm also made me realize small change is best made within a community of other people making changes—I have decided I will start talking food co-op with my neighbors. If but one bit subdevelopment per neighborhood decided to work directly with one farmer in the region, think of what change might occur.

Cleveland Areas CSAs:

Maple Valley Sugarbush and Farm CSA
12363 Chardon-Windsor Road, Chardon
t: 440.286.7275, mobile 440.537.5409 or 440.537.5405
e: maplevalley@windstream.net

Covered Bridge Gardens & Peters Creek
1681 Netcher Road, Jefferson

Ashbrook Farm
(proprietor) Elbert Crary
10089 Bartholomew Rd
Chagrin Falls, OH 44023
FAX: 440-543-8369
(Serves Northeast Ohio)

City Fresh Cleveland
Two locations in downtown Cleveland: Clark Metro Fresh Stop located
at W. 25th & Clark, US Bank parking lot and Detroit Shoreway Fresh
Stop located at W. 48th & Lorain Ave. at Urban Community School.
216.429.8238 or 440.774.2906

Cleveland Area Local Farms that Sell At Local Markets:

Snake Hill Farm, L.P.
17900 S Park Blvd
Shaker Heights, OH 44120
Snake Hill Farm is a diversified family farm producing vegetables, meat products, eggs and maple syrup. We sell organic vegetables at the North Union Farmers' Markets in Cleveland and Lakewood.


holly_44109 said...

Nice job gathering info! Have you decided if you're going to sign up or not?

valereee said...

I hate to see farmers selling their product for less than it costs them to produce! I pay between $3 and $4 a dozen for eggs from pastured hens, depending on where I buy them (I buy some at the farmers' market, some at a local farm, and some at a local produce market) and I don't begrudge a bit of it. I'd rather my money went to keeping that farmer in business so I can always get fresh, orange-yolked eggs from happy chickens who get to scratch in the dirt and eat bugs.