On Wednesday night in downtown Gainesville, you can find Amber Geller at the Union Street Farmers’ Market distributing fresh produce to consumers at no cost. What appears to be an unfair trade is actually part of the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.
“It is a financial model in every way because people get to eat clean food, we get to meet community members and they support our business,” said Geller, 25, the outreach coordinator for Swallowtail Farm.
CSA, launched in fall 2010 by the Office of Sustainability at the University of Florida, returns to UF campus for the 2013-2014 growing season.
Geller said she is a member of one of three farms participating in the program this fall. Gator CSA hosted four farms in previous years.
The program offers an exchange where local consumers pay a sum of money at the beginning of the growing period, and in return, the farmers provide fresh produce throughout the season, according to the UF sustainability website.
“It is an important resource for farmers like us so that we can buy tools, seeds and other things that keep the farm going,” said Amy Van Scoik, 30, CSA and marketing coordinator of Frog Song Organics Farm. “We don’t stress as much because there is less financial risk.”
Frog Song Organics Farm is participating in the Gator CSA program for the 2013-2014 growing season. This will be their third season of involvement.
Another aspect of Gator CSA is the strong bond it creates between consumer and farmer. Van Scoik said it transforms an otherwise faceless transaction into something meaningful and significant.
The season will run between 32 and 36 weeks, beginning in late October and ending in June, so there is sufficient time to develop relationships.
“I’ll see the same family every week for eight months straight, and I get to hear about recipes they make using my crops,” Van Scoik said. “There is a mutual respect for supporting each other’s livelihood, and that is what keeps us going.”
CSA consumers make a commitment to the farms when they pay before they receive their vegetables, fruits and herbs. They share in bounty and harvest risks, and farmers are able to focus on land stewardship, according to the UF sustainability website.
“It truly is a give and take relationship,” said Jim Caskey, 60, roaster for Sweetwater Organic Coffee. “Hopefully we teach people something by it and set a good example.”
Caskey used to participate in the CSA program as a consumer. He said he would pay $20 and bring a box of fresh produce back to the company to share with co-workers.
“The best thing about CSA is that it gets the community involved and gives farmers a base to know what to grow and how much,” Caskey said.
Gator CSA has also been a successful way to engage the campus community on food sustainability, according to the UF sustainability website. Consumers eat healthy food and know where it comes from.
“Every time someone worries, you have to reassure them that their food is natural, grown locally and has not been shipped around the world,” Van Scoik said.
The three farms participating in the CSA program are required to grow their produce within 250 miles of UF, which keeps the food transportation at a minimum. This saves gas and keeps the food fresh.
“We’ve only got one Earth you know, and it’s important to treat it with respect,” Caskey said.
To join the Gator CSA program, sign up for Swallowtail Farm at SwallowtailCSA.com, Frog Song Organics Farm at FrogSongOrganics.com and the Family Garden Organic Farm at TheFamilyGardenCSA.com. There are only 300 total spots available.