Local farms deliver: Community supported agriculture gains in popularity as Geauga Family Farms brings locally grown food to the Heights area

The Cleveland area is experiencing a local food revolution. More and more opportunities are cropping up for residents to purchase healthy foods grown by local farmers and producers, and consumers are learning more about the bounty of this region.

Geauga Family Farms, a local cooperative of 10 certified-organic family farms, has experienced tremendous growth in its Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. In its first two seasons of business, the group went from just under 300 members in 2009 to more than 800 last year, and the farms are anticipating an expansion to 1,000 for 2011.

Community-supported agriculture is an approach that enables members of the general public to purchase a share of the harvest at the beginning of the growing season. This early investment provides financial support to the farmers when they are purchasing seeds and supplies for the coming year—literally seed money. In return for this investment, members receive a weekly delivery of freshly harvested produce throughout the growing season. Geauga Family Farms offers single shares (several servings a week for two to three people) and family shares (the same for four to five people). For the 20-week summer season, single shares cost $400 and family shares cost $650—a great value for the range and quality of produce included.

The farmers of Geauga Family Farms appreciate the CSA model because it provides a more direct relationship with consumers through farm visits, a weekly newsletter, member surveys, and volunteer opportunities. Feedback from members helps farmers make decisions about what to plant and where pick-up sites are needed. The greater financial security provided by the CSA business model has drawn younger farmers and a new energy back to the agricultural way of life.

Geauga Family Farms has been lucky to have active partners in the businesses and institutions that serve as pick-up sites. In the Heights area, Ruffing Montessori School hosts a Thursday evening pick-up this season, and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and First Unitarian Church host Saturday morning pick-ups. Tuesday pick-ups are at Whole Foods in Woodmere Village and Kol Chadash Temple in Solon. Additional pick-up sites are located in Chardon, Middlefield, Lakewood, Painesville, Mentor, Bainbridge and Willoughby Hills. Both Ruffing Montessori School and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church donate leftover shares to the Heights Emergency Food Center, providing fresh and healthy produce to residents in need.

The coordination among multiple farms enables them to grow a wide variety of produce in volume. Planting has already started on more than 50 varieties of vegetables. Members love the way the program has introduced them to new vegetables as well as new varieties of old favorites. Some members shared stories of children cheering at the appearance of kohlrabi or kale. The cooperative’s weekly newsletter, "The Fair Share," provides recipes and storage tips matched to the produce provided each week.

Last fall, Geauga Family Farms tested a Winter CSA plan, and the 175 available shares for the six-week program sold out in two weeks. Members reported enjoying the combination of root vegetables, lettuce, greens, eggs, and baked goods. The farms plan expanded winter offerings this year.

The farmers host monthly farm visits and field nights for CSA members throughout the growing season. Last year's visits were a great way to gain insight into the life of our Amish neighbors (eight of the 10 farms are Amish), while learning about the work involved in running a family farm. 

If this method of direct support for local farms appeals to you, Northeast Ohio offers many opportunities for participation. Early sign-up is recommended, as many CSAs fill up quickly. These programs are not for everyone, and not all CSAs are the same. But if you are an adventurous cook looking to add more healthy vegetables to your diet, a CSA membership may be just the thing for you. The Geauga Family Farms website at www.geaugafamilyfarms.org provides additional background and information about the program and its farmers. 

Michelle Bandy-Zalatoris

Michelle Bandy-Zalatoris is a Cleveland Heights resident, a city planner and a local food advocate.

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Volume 4, Issue 5, Posted 9:54 PM, 04.11.2011