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A Home on Shelter Island: Supporting local agriculture

This past weekend I experienced my first pickup as a CSA member at Sylvester Manor. For years I have been an avid supporter, and at least weekly shopper at the Farm Stand, but had never been a member of the CSA.

My knowledge of the CSA over the years has grown significantly, but started out as something like this: “What are all of those people doing over there? They just get to come and collect vegetables every week?” I wasn’t sure what was going on, but it definitely seemed like there was an inside “club” of vegetable lovers that I didn’t know about.

When inquiring, I was told that these customers were part of the CSA. I didn’t know what that meant exactly, and the general answer still didn’t really clarify what I was missing out on, but I continued on buying my tomatoes and carrots anyhow.

Eventually, I learned more about the process of CSA and understood what exactly was going on.

Community-supported agriculture (or CSA model) is a system that allows the consumer to subscribe or pay one lump sum early on in the season (or even in the winter), and in return will receive usually a weekly or bi-weekly allotment of produce or other farmed goods, at no additional cash output.

The up-front payment from the customer is extremely crucial to the grower as early-season cash flow, used to purchase things such as seeds, soil, equipment, rent, salaries, etc. The customer is also agreeing to take part in some of the farming risks as well; an ideal harvesting year yields extra bounty for the consumer, and counter to that, an extremely difficult weather year might mean less items in the weekly box.

Once I was aware of the CSA and what that would mean to me as the customer, I observed the process for a few years, but was hesitant to join.

What if we’re not going to be around a few weeks to pick up our share? What if we need 20 potatoes and 20 ears of corn for a BBQ but the weekly CSA only has spinach and eggplant? As a commercial insurance underwriter, I analyze every possible risk and am deeply aware of weather-related issues, wondering if my risk-averse tendencies could feel comfortable enough with the model.

This winter, in early January I decided I was ready to get on board with the CSA and finally become a member. I felt confident in the annual yields produced and always appreciate the quality of products.

So, I paid my dues and happily waited in anticipation for the first weekly pick-up. I brought my reusable bags and a few friends over to the farm on Saturday morning, and this week I have enjoyed a few lovely arugula salads (perfectly paired with local strawberries) and learned how to cook with garlic scapes (sautéed or roasted — add to scrambled eggs!)

There are other benefits to belonging to the CSA aside from the heads of lettuce and bunches of radishes. There are “pick your own” options each week, the ability to bring pre-consumer food waste back for composting and a general sense of community.

I look forward to meeting with the staff and volunteers, running into neighbors and friends and a feeling of support and engagement.

There are a few other local CSA options as well. Saturday morning visits to the Farmers Market at the Historical Society is a chance to meet with many of the growers who also offer flowers, meats, cheeses, eggs, fish and other items. 

Bring your tote bag and a sense of curiosity while strolling through the market — ask about CSA options and enjoy supporting the local agriculture community.