While agriculture brings $4 billion to the state economy each year, the cold winter months don’t generate much income for many Connecticut farmers, who are talking about the importance of community-supported agriculture during National CSA Week, which started Sunday.
“When you invest in a CSA you are helping provide for that farmer and the farmer’s family this time of year when we are making no money from January until sometimes July,” said Chris Bassette, co-owner of Glastonbury-based Killam & Bassette Farmstead, LLC.
Community Supported Agriculture programs are an arrangement, usually in the form of a prepaid subscription, for a farmer’s produce, dairy, and/or meat for the season.
“This helps us put more money for plants, animals, whatever we need for starting up for the new season, help plan for the year before the season gets going. The nice thing is you get to know and meet the owners themselves and you become part of the family,” Bassette said.
Different farms offer a variety of options for CSAs, and consumers should do some research to figure out what works best for them, said Rebecca Eddy, public information officer at the state Department of Agriculture.
“Do the research to make sure it fits your lifestyle and your needs, like the frequency or size of the CSA,” Eddy said. “CSA has really changed and expanded over the last few years in terms of what they offer. It’s not just fruits and vegetables anymore.”
Originally, the national initiative was just a day, but it has expanded to a week and runs through Saturday.
Killam & Bassette has different summer and fall/winter options and they partner with Smyth’s Trinity Farm in Enfield to make meat and milk available as well.
A relationship with who you are buying from
“I just think it creates a relationship with who you are buying from,” Bassette said of the CSA concept. “It’s not what you have when you walk into a regular store.”
Randy Rogowski, who owns Laurel Glen Farm in Shelton, where his family grows vegetables on 20 acres, says he has 250 CSA members, adding that the farm and customers have built up a community.
“They actually care about us as a family and as a farm,” Rogowski said.
His wife, Victoria, manages the vegetable subscriptions by planning the weekly shares and writes a newsletter with updates and seasonal recipes. Victoria runs private Facebook groups for Laurel Glen’s CSA members, holding interactive events like cook-offs and other contests, Rogowski said.
“People are attracted to the community that we have built,” Rogowski said.
Gazy Brothers Farm in Oxford has been offering CSA programs since 2004 and was one of the first farms that started delivering to its CSA customers, including students at Yale University, according to Alexis Gazy, whose husband, Ed, runs the farm with his brothers, Peter and Tony, and other members of the family.
“They’re investing directly in the food system, in their local food system,” Alexis Gazy said. “You know where your food comes from.”
She said the farm’s CSA customers keep signing up because they like the variety and have found that they eat healthier as a result of their memberships.
“That is a collateral advantage – a healthy diet, a healthy heart. It gets families involved with each other more. They have to talk about what they’re eating,” Gazy said. “They are planning their meals together.”
Gazy Brothers Farm also donates produce to food banks and soup kitchens, with customers sometimes donating their food boxes when they go on vacation.
Consumers can also support their local breweries as part of a CSA.
The families from Brewery Legitimus and Barden Farm, both in New Hartford, have been collaborating for years.
“In 2010 when we started without beer, we had 10 members. We have grown significantly since then. We have 70 with beer, and 70 without,” according to Cara Donovan of The Barden Farm Market.
The farm, in conjunction with Brewery Legitimus, is holding an event on Thursday to celebrate the partnership during CSA week, and to spread the word about the benefits of a CSA membership. They will also conduct tours.
Eddy said consumers do benefit financially by purchasing their produce, flowers, dairy or meat through a CSA.“When you figure out what you get from a CSA for your investment versus going and buying through another avenue, you are really going to come out ahead in terms of your financials,” Eddy said. “It’s a great way folks can stretch their budget and also support a local business who, in turn, supports other businesses.”
Farms that offer CSA programs are featured on an interactive map at ctgrown.org.