This is the latest installment in the Signs of Sustainability series, organized by Sustainable Tompkins.  Visit them online at sustainabletompkins.org. This installment was written by Avi Miner, the Local Food Educator in the Agriculture Program of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County.

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ITHACA, NY – In our area, the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) marketing model has been alive and well for over 20 years. On Saturday, March 5th from 12:00 to 3:00 p.m., Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County will host a CSA Fair in the Boynton Middle School cafeteria, 1601 N. Cayuga Street in Ithaca, for the community to meet 20+ different CSA farmers.

This year Healthy Food For All will be selling vegetarian chili for lunch.

CSA is a link between a farmer and community members: the farmer commits to growing a certain amount of food over the course of the growing season and community members commit to buying it, typically in the form of a weekly pick-up called a “share”.

There are many variations of this model, with differing share sizes, costs, season length, and variety of crops offered. Some CSAs include pick-your-own options to round out the share. Recently, other local producers have adopted the CSA marketing model: meat, baked goods, herbs, flowers, fiber, and prepared foods. In 2015 local farms provided well over 4,000 shares!

Thinking about joining a CSA? Consider “free choice” vs “box shares”. Free choice pickups (typically on farm or at a central location such as downtown or a farmers’ market) let you choose what you’ll take home each week. Don’t like kale? No problem, skip it this week. Can’t get enough carrots? Fill your share bag.

Box shares offer convenience. You’ll receive a box packed with a variety of seasonal produce. Most CSAs that offer box shares have several size options. Great for cooks who enjoy the adventure of trying new things!

It is also helpful to think about where you will pick up your share. Doing some u-pick and taking in the scenery while picking up your share on the farm is a great way to get outside with the family. Alternatively, finding a convenient location such as your workplace to quickly grab your box share on the way home can make it easy to fit CSA into a tight schedule.

CSA offers benefits for farmers and consumers. Farmers benefit because their harvest is sold before the growing season begins, providing funding when expenses are greatest. Also, pre-selling the harvest allows farmers to focus on production during the growing season.

Consumers benefit with an excellent deal on produce compared to buying items individually. As a shareholder you’ll learn about the seasonality of crops, gain a clearer understanding of the cycles of farming, and develop a relationship with the people who grow your food.

If you’re considering joining a CSA, or just want to know more about the concept, the CSA Fair on March 5th is the place for you. For more information contact Avi Miner at 272-2292 or agm32@cornell.edu.

(Featured photo by Christopher Paquette on Flickr)

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Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at msmith@ithacavoice.com, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.