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Buying The Farm

May 5, 2016

Once upon a time, not that long ago, it used to be hard to get a share from Roxbury Farm.

For those who already know what a CSA is, feel free to skip the next paragraph. I think it’s a good thing that there are people who aren’t familiar with the term Community Supported Agriculture. In theory that means the market hasn’t hit its maturity and that there is still room for growth, although I’m not sure in practice it’s working out that way.

Here’s how a CSA works. Instead of going to the farmers market every week to pick up your local, seasonal, and sustainable vegetables from a variety of farms, you buy a share of one farm for the entire season. Then, each week, you are given a portion of the crops they harvest throughout the growing season. This model is good for the farm, because it guarantees the farm’s income and protects it from risk. And consumers benefit, because they get a broad variety of great food at an advantageous price.

I’ve been a member of Roxbury Farm for years, and I love it. I would have been a member sooner, but one year I missed the shockingly brief new membership window, and the farm ran out of shares to sell.

The past couple of years, Roxbury Farm has been as good as it has ever been, but its membership is on the decline. Now instead of selling out of share early, it’s relatively late in the season and they still have a lot of shares to sell.

So today there are a couple of things I want to talk about.

For starters, you should definitely consider joining me this season. All the membership information can be found here, including all the locations around the Capital Region (there’s a new one at The Atrium in Downtown Troy).

Is it a lot of food? You betcha. But maybe you can get someone to split the share with you. I did that last year with Greg K. Pretty much we leapfrogged weeks during the growing season, although he picked up a few weeks when I was traveling, and I was able to pick up a few of his regularly scheduled weeks to make the arrangement as even as possible.

There are some people who try to divvy up each week’s bounty between two people, but I can imagine that gets problematic. So, I probably wouldn’t recommend that.

But the main thing I want to talk about is why shares in this CSA might be declining. My hunch is that there are a lot of factors in play.

1) We now have so many more options

The growth and popularity of farmers markets must be taking its toll. Not only are there more markets these days, but the established ones have expanded. Sure, there are some areas that are underserved. However, it’s much much easier and convenient to shop at local farmers markets than ever.

That is, if you still shop at a farmers market at all. Because once upon a time, that was one of only a few sources of sustainably raised produce. Now there are other services like Field Goods that provide the farmers market experience without the hastle. But we also have a Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Healthy Living Marketplace, and The Fresh Market (in addition to the Honest Weight Food Co-op) to satisfy demands for better food. Even Walmart and Aldi are getting in on the game, as are Price Chopper, Hannaford, and ShopRite.

2) Joining things is for old people

Pick any membership based organization and ask them how they are doing these days. Chances are they are seeing declines. Somehow, we’re not a society of joiners anymore. From churches and temples, to symphonies and theaters, to social clubs and affinity groups.

Well, the Yelp Albany community is growing, but that’s because I’m working my tail off to make it awesome. And, well, it’s also free. And online. Which changes the dynamics a lot.

Paying to be a part of something larger than oneself seems to have gone out of fashion. Why pay to be part of a community of likeminded people when you are so busy these days that you can’t even send a quick birthday message to your real friends on their Facebook walls, much less find the time to have them over to dinner.

I think this is a sign that we’re going to hell in a handbasket.

3) Flexible and customizable everything

It’s a hard sell in this day and age to tell someone that they can’t put their membership on hold, or that if they hate cilantro, they are still going to get cilantro when that’s the herb of the week.

Look, I won’t sugarcoat this. Being a member of a CSA isn’t easy. Looking at the lump sum dollar figure for the year may be daunting. In a year when there were major crop losses, Roxbury made sure the members got a fair value. But in good years, it’s a great value. You know what’s really daunting? Looking at how much perishable food you’re bringing into the house each week, and figuring out what to do with it, so none of these precious pieces of produce go to waste.

But the food is just. So. Damn. Good. From corn, to tomatoes, to sweet potatoes, to peppers, to turnips, beets, carrots, and cabbage. It’s all amazing.

Find a partner and give it a go. If you need help finding a partner, let me leverage the readership of the FLB to get you one. This is important stuff. Tell your friends. Help support this amazing local farm. And maybe this is the year we can help reverse a troubling trend.

One last time, here’s the link where you can sign up for the season.


6 Comments leave one →
  1. Jack C. permalink
    May 5, 2016 12:49 pm

    We love our Field Goods subscription (Lauren can pick up our weekly bag right in her own office), but man, we get a lot of stuff we end up not using. It feels super wasteful. In part, it’s because it’s hard to cook anything that takes longer than 30 minutes during the semester (and pregnant wife needs dinner STAT after getting home). But it’s also tough because there are a lot of veggies we aren’t too familiar with and need to find kooky recipes for them. The frozen options during the winter are awesome, though. Fresh kale in February? Heck yeah! We have so many frozen blueberries, though. I need to make some blueberry pancakes…

  2. May 5, 2016 2:36 pm

    Maybe more people are gardening… That would be a good thing for the world. I am starting to see (in Delmar at least) more and more large/elaborate gardening setups. It really is something everyone with a yard should do. I turn a very small patch of suburban yard into a surprisingly large amount of veggies.

  3. May 5, 2016 6:56 pm

    I used to be a Roxbury Farm member. This year I am a member of Soul Fire Farm, which links fantastic, land-loved produce and eggs with social justice issues. I’m just going to have to have company every week, now how’s that for revolutionary?

  4. May 5, 2016 8:36 pm

    We have been members with three different CSAs but have been with Roxbury for years now and LOVE it! Some weeks we have to hustle to keep up but the quality is great and I learn so much reading their newsletter. They are great stewards of the land.
    I think with the increase in farmers’ markets and CSAs there is a lot more competition – I hope that more sign up and experience this wonderful farm.

  5. May 6, 2016 12:37 pm

    While I can’t recommend going with a CSA farm highly enough, one should definitely be prepared. There is simply nothing like getting a bag or box of produce that was picked that morning. One must understand that one is going to eat seasonally. No butternut squash in the spring, for instance. One must also be willing to give the reins to someone else. This is not like a grocery shopping experience. You get what the farmer picks. So you want to check out what the farmer is planting. Almost all of them will tell you on their websites. So your shopping routines are interrupted for the spring, summer and fall. It does take some adaptation to receive a bag and then make menus around what’s in the bag. What this does for sustainably-managed family farms in our area is really tremendous. For the first time in about six years I’m not signed up because I’m relocating and frankly I feel lost – I’m actually going to have to go out and shop for my veggies! I have been very very happy with my CSA experience, which was with Fox Creek Farm – Raymond apprenticed with Jean Paul Courtens and then went his own way, and he and Sara have done well. They also offer a u-pick garden for herbs and cherry tomatoes as part of the share. I recommend trying it if you think you can adapt to the weekly delivery routine.

  6. posniesd permalink
    May 11, 2016 2:51 pm

    #3 was why I stopped… while I liked being forced to eat a wider variety of vegetables than I’d naturally choose myself in some ways, I really didn’t need vast amounts of lemon balm, or any kohlrabi at all! That plus the cost, which didn’t work out great when I travel a few weeks each summer, killed it for me. I’m very grateful for the other non-subscription options though.

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