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[whitespace] Tomato seedlings
Photograph by Robert Scheer

Building The Perfect BLT: Tomato seedlings are babied for springtime at Our Farm, a Community Supported Agriculture farm in Woodside.

The Producers

Community Supported Agriculture offers a weekly Pandora's box of organic delights

By Traci Vogel

MY BOYFRIEND has a verbal tic. It's more like a bad-joke tic, actually--one that burbles up around Safeway grocery stores. Spot the representative "S," and the tic kicks in: "You know," he'll say, in his best vaudeville voice, "you can break your arm in a Safeway."

The first time I heard the joke, I didn't get it, but now it haunts me, and thus it begins this piece that has nothing to do with Safeway except that I have to take advantage of the pun to say: You cannot buy produce in a Safeway.

Why not? Well, there's nothing stopping you, really, except a world of alternatives--alternatives that will bring you to realize that most grocery stores are to produce as the Osbournes are to family values. As the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF) website reports, "The average 'fresh' produce in a grocery store is 7-14 days old ... and has traveled approximately 1,500 environmentally expensive miles, losing nutrition and taste along the way."

More and more people, having realized this, are choosing to buy produce from "CSAs." CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and the philosophy behind the working model is simple: By putting money upfront (buying "shares"), the consumer can ensure that small farmers will be able to afford the seeds and supplies that nature will transform into produce. This is a model that reveres the word "small"; CSAs limit their customer base according to the size of their farm or co-op.

In return for their shares, members receive a weekly bushel (the weight of a bushel varies, but for comparison's sake, a bushel of apples weighs about 42 pounds) of freshly picked fruits and vegetables, along with occasional herbs and flowers. Some CSAs, such as Farm Fresh to You, deliver directly to your home or office; others, such as Mariquita Farms, establish designated pickup points in your area.

Selection depends on the season. In April, for example, bushels might include asparagus, grapefruit, Valencia oranges or chard. Many farms also publish newsletters, with recipes and articles that give the subscriber a sense of the workings of a farm--proof that there are real people growing and picking your food!

Andrew Scott is one of those real people. The manager of Hidden Villa CSA in Los Altos Hills, Scott has been farming for more than 35 years. He came across the CSA model 12 years ago, when, as he says, "it was still a kind of new idea."

"I was drawn to the issues around food and agriculture and how they affect the environment and community," Scott explains. "The CSA idea creates a relationship between the farm and the people who eat the food. It's a two-way relationship. It's community-supported agriculture, but it's also agriculture-supported community, and I like that."

Scott is serious about the community aspect: Hidden Villa offers internships to people interested in the organic-farming process and a summer camp for kids who want to learn how a farm works, and the farm is open to the public six days a week. The price of a regular share at Hidden Villa is $450 for 28 weeks.

Now is a perfect time to visit or sign up with a CSA; many seasons begin in May. There are many more local CSAs than the ones listed in this article. Website resources for finding a CSA include the Certified Organic Farmer engine at www.ccof.org/findfarmer.htm; the CAFF website at www.caff.org/farms/final/csas.html; Biodynamic Farming at www.biodynamics.com/usda/states/CAfarm.htm; and the Alternative Farming Systems Information Systems engine at www.nal.usda.gov/afsic/csa/csastate.htm.

Farm Fresh to You
Contact: Kathleen Barsotti
23808 State Hwy. 16
Capay, 95607
Phone: 800.796.6009

Hidden Villa CSA
Contact: Andrew Scott
26870 Moody Road
Los Altos Hills, 94022
Phone: 650.949.8647

Mariquita Farms
Contact: Julia Wiley
P.O. Box 2065
Watsonville, 95077
Phone: 831.761.3226

Our Farm
Contact: David Blume
834 W. California Way
Woodside, 94062
Phone: 650.365.2993

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From the April 25-May 1, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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