For several years, it has been a growing trend nationwide wherein consumers want to be more aware of where exactly it is their food comes from, as concerns over pesticide usage and genetically modified seeds have mounted.
Luckily, for residents of the Monterey Bay area, dozens of small, family farms operate in the region, regularly offering access to locally grown fruits and vegetables through a number of outlets — produce stands, farmer’s markets, local grocery stores, and even from the farms themselves.
In recent years, however, numerous small farms have began what are known as Community Supported Agriculture programs — a subscription-based program in which members receive a weekly box of fresh-harvested in-season fruits and vegetables.
The programs offer fresh produce for consumers and it’s a win for the farmers as well, as most subscribers pay the membership price at the beginning of the growing season — traditionally a lean time for farmers.
“It’s a survival tool for small farms,” said Jeff Larkey, owner of Santa Cruz-based Route 1 Farms. “It allows you to access up-front capital at the beginning of the season — almost all of our expenses are up front.”
For Larkey, who has grown crops in Santa Cruz County since 1981, beginning the CSA program has allowed more financial flexibility for his farm, as well as to connect with more customers.
“The economics of farming is challenging for us,” he said. “We were looking for other ways to connect locally.”
Larkey said that the wide assortment of fruits and vegetables grown on Route 1 Farms’ 65 acres of farmland allows for subscribers to not only become acquainted with produce that they might not have otherwise been inclined to try, but to get an appreciation for food that has not been stored for extended periods of time.
“It’s kind of an education for subscribers to eat with the seasons,” said “They get a pretty good variety.”
The contents of the produce boxes are rarely the same from week to week, and can feature such items as lemon basil, bok choy, Italian parsley, zucchini, and plums.
Subscriptions are mostly seasonal, Larkey said, with a 28-week summer season, and a 14-week winter season. Periodically, he said, the farm hosts Farm Dinner nights — which feature a local chef and a local winemaker to demonstrate the ways certain produce items can be prepared.
“We get a lot of subscriptions from those,” he said, adding that Route 1 Farms currently serves approximately 200 households in the area.
The CSA programs are springing up at farms, large and small, throughout the region.
In Ben Lomond, Linda Butler’s Lindencroft Farms — a 2.5-acre, no-till farm — has had a CSA program for nearly 7 years.
“I started this thing with longtime friends and it just grew and grew,” Butler said. “Everything we do is by hand.”
The farm specializes in heirloom pepper plants, which she said are ideal for the sandy soil of Ben Lomond and can be grown year-round.
Subscribers to Lindencroft Farms’ CSA benefit, Butler said, because in addition to fruits and vegetables many of the farm’s 48 types of peppers are unique to the area.
“A lot of the food we grow isn’t available in farmer’s markets,” she said.
For more information on Route 1 Farms, visit http://route1farms.com
For more information on Lindencroft Farms, visit www.lindencroft.com
For a list of the CSA programs available in the region, visit http://sustainablesantacruz.org/
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