WADHAMS - More and more North Country families are taking advantage of a program that gives them access to fresh produce and supports local farms.
As the demand for local food grows, an increasing number of local farms are offering their goods as a CSA.
"For the farmer, a CSA is a great way to sell their product," said Anita Deming, executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Essex County.
CSA, short for Community Supported Agriculture, is a system of farming and food distribution where producers and consumers share the risk of production.
In most CSA models, members agree to buy "shares" at a certain up-front cost in the early spring. In exchange, they receive weekly portions of fresh produce during the growing season. The size of the portions and variety of produce is based on what the farmer is able to grow.
"The buyer gets a good deal," said Deming, noting how the food ends up being less expensive than it would be at a farmer's market.
"Rather than being raised for shipping, it's raised for flavor," Deming added. "You can also make input to the farmer about what you want them to grow."
Adam Hainer owns and operates Juniper Hill Farm in Wadhams, one of several farms in the area that have switched to CSA as their main form of operation.
Hainer said receiving payment in early spring - normally the time he purchases seed - saves him from having to seek annual production loans like many other farmers.
More importantly, Hainer can grow his crops with the advance knowledge that someone wants to consume them.
"It's nice to look at growing things if people really care about the end result," he said.
Hainer grows 30 varieties of organic vegetables and fruits on Juniper Hill's 10 acres, tailoring production to the demands of CSA members.
This year was Juniper Hill's third year in production and second year as a CSA. Their CSA membership started with 15 and has since doubled, allowing for expanded production.
"I think it's becoming more and more common in our country as a whole," said Hainer, noting increased desire by many people to have a better connection to the places their food originates.
While some CSAs make weekly deliveries to their members, Hainer encourages people to come pick up their weekly share at Juniper Hill.
"I know some people may look at it as an inconvenience to come out to the farm every Friday, but then they get a better connection to where their food comes from," he said. "They see the day we plant them and they see the day we're picking them."
Hainer admits his CSA members may pay an average of 20 to 30 percent more for their produce than they would at a grocery store, but said there's just no comparison when it comes to quality and taste.
"I personally don't think $23 a week for a CSA is too much when plenty of people spend that much on bottled water," he said. "I can understand if you don't want fresh vegetables, but don't tell me it's because it's too expensive."
"We're in this to feed people, not to get rich," Hainer added. "If people come to talk to us about what they need to be a part of it and what they can afford, we can try to work with them."
CSAs in the Adirondacks are also becoming more viable due to the implementation of some new technology.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has begun to offer grants and low-interest loans to farmers to help buy high tunnels, a kind of low-cost, unheated greenhouse that allows farmers to extend the growing season of several different crops and keep them better protected from insects, disease, and damaging weather.
At Juniper Hill Farm, Hainer has put an innovative twist on his high tunnels, mounting them on tracks so they can be easily moved to cover rotating crops.
"They're worth every penny," Hainer said, noting how it's his goal to eventually provide produce to his CSA members year-round.
Local farms have also been getting a boost from Adirondack Harvest, a CCE-sponsored program that helps farmers market their goods. The program also offers training to farmers so they can do their own marketing with brochures and other promotional materials.
"The one thing we try to do is be the Web presence for these farmers," said Deming.
At www.adirondackharvest.com, visitors can find a directory of direct-market farms, farmers' markets, and even restaurants that buy local produce. The site also has references to CSAs around the region.
To find a CSA near you, contact Adirondack Harvest by calling 962-4810.