Community-supported agriculture
grows in WNY

By Jessica Keltz; photos by kc kratt

Gayle and Mike Thorpe at their farm, Thorpe’s Organic Family Farm.
Perhaps right now not every concerned shopper knows what a “CSA” is, but farmers and advocates alike report that the Community Supported Agriculture movement is gaining ground in Western New York.

Community supported agriculture is an arrangement in which customers pre-pay, at or before the beginning of the growing season, for a share in the year’s harvest. Typically, they receive produce once per week, and what they receive varies with what’s in season. Some farmers will drive to a central location to deliver shares, while others require customers to visit weekly to pick up their groceries. “I explain the CSA model to at least a dozen people a week,” says Christa Glennie Seychew of the Field & Fork Network, an organization working to improve Western New York’s local food network. “I don’t think the CSA concept has hit critical mass yet, where the average consumer knows about it, but I see more and more of the shoppers in our region asking questions about where their food comes from, and who reaps the benefit of the money they spend on it. We find that for anyone who begins to really investigate that ‘food chain,’ becoming a member of a local, sustainably-farmed CSA is often the result.”

The advantage to farmers is knowing how much produce they will sell—so they know how much to grow—as well as the financial benefit of having cash up front. For consumers, the advantages vary. Some like the old-fashioned connection to farm and farmer, while others see it as a great bargain on bushels of healthful food. “On the vegetable shares, we figured it out and compared it to conventional produce, not organic produce prices, at the supermarket. Our customers got two to two and a half times the dollar value,” says Gayle Thorpe of Thorpe’s Organic Family Farm. Thorpe’s is located in East Aurora, and members drive to the farm weekly to pick up their shares. The farm offers vegetable and fruit shares, as well as organic meat, eggs, and dairy products. In five years, Thorpe’s has gone from sixty-two families purchasing shares to more than 380, Thorpe reports. She said that although Western New Yorkers were slow to embrace the local foods movement, we’re rapidly catching up.

“People are becoming more educated, more informed,” she says.

At Good Food Farm in North Java, Damian and Carrie Huber have also seen a change in their customer base since adopting the CSA model in 2003. “The people who want to do it now are almost scared of where their food is coming from,” says Damian Huber. “I’ve had a lot of people coming just for the chicken because I guess they don’t trust their sources. They like to know where it comes from.” Good Food Farm reduced the number of produce shares they offer in order to concentrate on meat production, Huber says. The farm offers chicken shares, and Thanksgiving turkeys.

Huber says the local market for CSAs is “definitely growing … I have more and more people inquiring about it every year, and the people that I’ve had are steady customers.”

Seychew says the increase in interest the Hubers have seen isn’t just a fluke. “Our region’s CSA pioneers are Porter Farms, currently in its fourteenth year, and Native Offerings, formerly known as Buffalo Organics, in its twelfth year,” she says. “In the last two to five years we’ve seen six or seven more farms either convert entirely to this business model or add it to their existing model.” If you think you might join a CSA, the next question becomes, which farm? Seychew says the most important questions are how much the farmers’ growing methods matter to you (does it have to be 100 percent organic?), and how much produce you will realistically eat. Also consider whether you prefer to drive to the farm each week and see where your food comes from, or if the convenience of having it delivered—to your home or to a nearby location—fits better with your lifestyle. Once you’ve made up your mind to get started, Huber recommends signing up as early as possible. Seychew agrees:

“The majority of WNY’s CSAs sell out of all of their shares early in the game, often earlier than most people are prepared for. We see many people hoping to opt-in in late May and June when most CSAs are already sold out.”

WNY Farms with CSA programs:
Porter Farms
Share sizes: One
Pickup locations: Multiple, in Buffalo and Rochester areas
PO Box 416
5020 Edgerton Road
Elba, NY, 14058

Native Offerings
Share sizes: Two
Pickup locations: Buffalo, Amherst, Orchard Park
Stew and Deb Ritchie
8501 Maples Road
Little Valley, NY 14755

Promised Land
Share sizes: One each vegetable, fruit, and herb/flower
Pickup locations: Buffalo, Snyder, Williamsville
3105 County Line Rd
Corfu, NY 14036

Busti Cider Mill
and Farm Market CSA

Share sizes: Two, full and half
Pickup locations: One
1135 Southwestern Drive
Jamestown, NY 14701

Canticle Farm
Share sizes: Two, large and small
Pickup locations: One
3835 South Nine Mile Road
Allegany, NY 14706
373-0200, extension 3358
Cobblestone Farm
Share sizes: Two, eight quart and half bushel
Pickup locations: Lockport, Niagara Falls, Lewiston, Tonawanda and North Tonawanda, Kenmore, and North Buffalo delivery routes, with the potential for more
P. O. Box 1386, Lockport, NY 14095

Gong Garden
Share sizes: Two, full and half
Pickup locations: One
3488 Webster Road
Fredonia, NY 14063

Good Food Farm
Share sizes: Two
Pickup locations: One
3818 Route 77
North Java, NY 14113

Roots & Wings Family Farm
Share sizes: One
Pickup locations: Two, Falconer and Cherry Creek
523 Kent Street
Cherry Creek, NY 14723

Thorpe’s Organic
Share sizes: One each, vegetable and fruit
Pickup locations: One
12866 Route 78
East Aurora, NY 14052

Jessica Keltz is an attorney and freelance writer living in Buffalo.


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