Thursday, May 15, 2008

CSA Helps Ojai Farmers Stay Afloat

Certified organic farmer Steve Sprinkel examines a caterpillar larvae he found on a leaf of lettuce while volunteer Krisha Begalla helps pick vegetables.

By Nao Braverman
As food production worldwide seems to be hit by devastating shortages from one end, and potentially toxic production methods on the other, a couple of Ojai farms attempt to keep some local produce as pure and plentiful as possible.
Times are hard for local farmers, especially with climbing water rates. But Community Supported Agriculture is one way that Ojai farmers have been able to stay afloat, and involve the community in keeping the local soil fertile. It’s also a convenient way for residents to get a variety of seasonal vegetables each week, and save time at the market.
Members of Ojai CSA pay a monthly fee and receive a weekly box of fresh-picked produce from a local farm. The money, paid up-front, serves to help farmers cover production costs. In return CSA customers get their money’s worth of vegetables that are harvested that week.
This week members of The Farmer & The Cook’s CSA got a box of salad mix cilantro, chard, collard greens, radishes, beets, carrots, radishes, fennel and garlic flowers.
The weekly box always has some staples that grow year round, like greens and salad mix. But it also includes a variety of seasonal vegetables that aren’t always available at the nearest grocery store.
“I never knew what to do with rutabaga before I started CSA,” said Grace Bueti, who works on The Farmer & The Cook’s farm and heads their educational program.
Steve Sprinkel, co-owner of The Farmer & The Cook with his wife, Olivia Chase, often includes a recipe with one of the less known vegetables that appear in the box in his monthly news letter. When radicchio was in season, he wrote up a recipe for a radicchio, fig and citrus salad.
The way produce is grown today, many people who can get tomatoes year-round at the super market have lost a sense of what is seasonal. But most produce tastes best and grows best at a certain time of year.
“CSA gives a harshly accurate view of what’s seasonal, but when basil comes around, man do we appreciate it,’ said Bueti.
While it helps most customers eat healthier by introducing them to a variety of vegetables, it is also the most cost-effective and best revenue source for farmers because it allows them to sell exactly what the garden yields, without wasting vegetables that are less marketable and selling out what is most popular at the store.
“When you pay for CSA, you are paying for aphids and holes in your greens, which we can’t sell to restaurants,” said Bueti.”But this is fresher than the farmers’ market. This is four or five hours out of the ground.”
While shopping at the farmers market generally guarantees a fresher product than the grocery store, it creates a distorted view of local and seasonal produce, said Bueti.
“Some vendors are coming from four or five hours away, and some are selling tomatoes in the middle of spring.
The Farmer & The Cook vendors stocks produce at their store but it’s the CSA program that keeps it alive.
Local farms are a priceless asset to the community. Especially with only three access points in the valley, all vulnerable to landslides, it’s nice to have local food sources, Bueti said.
While large-scale production of produce shipped in from overseas, it is becoming harder to know what pesticides are used, whether the soil itself has been contaminated or not. Farmer & The Cook’s garden is organic and pesticide free. They are sure not to use manure, so that the soil is protected as well as possible from contaminants.
One way for consumers to be sure is to visit the farm where their food is grown. That’s only possible when the food that residents eat is indeed in their community.
Volunteers and CSA members are always welcome to help at The Farmer & The Cook’s seven-acre Rio Gozo Farm on Help of Ojai’s West Campus. The land surrounded by a 5-foot tall, 3.5-foot- wide wall, where women inmates once farmed years ago, is ideal for growing. The grounds, where pigs were kept during the Honor Farm days, is naturally rich with nitrogen, said Bueti. And thanks to Help of Ojai’s well water, irrigation costs are manageable, she said.
In addition to helping the local community, eating CSA also helps the global environment by conserving resources, namely fossil fuel.
Aside from the obvious environmental benefits of eating food that hasn’t been shipped from miles away, using fuel and contributing to pollution, CSA encourages a more vegetarian diet.
At an Ojai Valley Green Coalition meeting in April, coalition members gave a presentation, put together by William Roberts of the American Vedic Association, on the environmental impact of the meat industry.
According to the presentation, by Roberts, the U.S. Bureau of Mines in the Department of Commerce made a statement that the value of raw materials consumed to produce food from livestock is greater than the value of all oil, gas and coal consumed in the U.S.
While only 23 gallons of water is needed to produce a pound of tomatoes or lettuce, 5,214 gallons of water are needed to produce the same weight of beef. Thus not eating meat can save more water than not showering for a very long time.
Similarly, one acre of land can be used to produce 36,000 pounds of potatoes and 28,800 pounds of oranges and only 250 pounds of beef. Moreover, animal-based agriculture contributes 18 percent more greenhouse atmosphere than all other forms of transportation put together, according to the presentation.
While going vegetarian is the most environmentally friendly dietary decision, according to the Green Coalition presentation, it goes without saying that local, small scale, animal based agriculture can be done in a much more environmentally responsible manner than larger corporate meat producers in the industry.
Food produced at a smaller scale is generally more expensive. But as trips to the grocery store are getting more costly as gas prices soar, local foods producers, who sell to local markets are not as affected.
“We’re expensive now, but pretty soon it could even out,” said Bueti.
Another CSA farm that existed years before Sprinkel’s is Peter Wilsrud’s Avogadro’s Garden in a residential neighborhood off Fairview Road. The somewhat smaller establishment began in the late ‘90s and provides boxes of produce to local families during the harvest season.
The CSA as an organized concept was established in Germany, Switzerland and Japan decades ago as a response to food safety and the urbanization of agriculture, according to Wikipedia. Sometimes the most archaic practices are found to be the most environmentally sound. And with Ojai’s ideal climate conditions, and rich agricultural history, CSA seems to be one way to go.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good on 'ya S Sprinkel and CSA for keeping it local. For a nice info piece on the subject, youtube "Kenley Neufeld Defends Himself" to learn how our shopping habits
effect local economies in a healthy
and beneficial choice and sustain the
earth's climate and bioregions. PL