By ERIN ROLL
For families in Montclair, and elsewhere, shopping for fruits and vegetables tends to involve one of two options: the nearest grocery store or the Montclair Farmers’ Market when it’s in season, early June to mid-November.
But a number of families have been getting their vegetables and fruits from a third source: community-supported agriculture programs, or CSAs.
Lynley Jones is a food writer and blogger who runs the site AdventureKitchen.com, and she teaches cooking classes for children.
She and her family have belonged to the Montclair Food Co-op and CSA for four years. The family had been encouraged to join a CSA by a friend who was already involved.
“It seemed like such a smart and good way to do it all around,” she said. The family has definitely noticed a change in their grocery bills, she said, but certain items, including staples like ginger, garlic and most kinds of fruit, still require a trip to the grocery store.
“We definitely eat more of a plant-based diet when we’re in the CSA,” she said.
Sometimes there is more in the share than they could possibly eat, so they have to parcel some of it out among family and friends. “We got so many peppers,” Jones said of one season’s offerings. And in one box, there was a vegetable that she and her family didn’t recognize.
Jones wrote about her experiences in a blog post called “The CSA Survival Guide.”
According to the Jersey Fresh website, there are at least 58 CSA-supported farms in New Jersey.
With a CSA, members pay a fee upon joining, which goes to the farmer’s wages and other expenses. Members are also traditionally expected to do a work shift on days when the produce is delivered to the pick-up sites in Montclair and neighboring towns.
Sarah Forrest works with the Montclair Food Co-op and CSA, which has been in existence for about 10 years. Its supplying farm is Hepworth Farms in upstate New York.
Forrest said many people join because of the financial savings: “We’re getting whatever the farm has to offer that week and is ready to be eaten,” Forrest said. “A lot of people, we explain to them how much of a savings it is.”
Asa Miraglia is one of the group administrators of the Bloomfield-Montclair CSA. “Since our CSA is all organic, I think they like the access to the organic … over the 24 weeks [of the growing season],” Miraglia said, when asked about the reasons people give for joining.
Organic food appeals to longtime Bloomfield-Montclair CSA member Katherine Joyce, and she also appreciates CSA’s benefits to the environment. “There’s often a huge carbon footprint associated with buying organic food from supermarkets,” Joyce said in an email. “CSA affirms our farmer’s commitment to (and underwrites his risk from) growing organic produce locally, reduces the fossil fuel impact of our groceries, and supports cleaner farming in our pretty industrialized state.”
The Bloomfield-Montclair CSA’s supplying farmer is John Krueger of Circle Brook Farm in Andover, who also sells at the Montclair Farmers’ Market during the growing season.
The up-front costs of joining a CSA may be a little expensive, though some offer an installment payment plan. “If you use the produce, and you buy that much produce [at the store], it’s a real savings,” Miraglia said.
CSA participants learn that what is in the shares is what the farmers have; there generally isn’t any picking and choosing of what vegetables will be in the boxes that week. And the offerings are heavily dependent on outside conditions, including weather.
“You have to sort of be flexible with what is harvested,” Forrest said.
Miraglia said there is a regular conversation with members asking what to do with the odd-looking vegetables they find in their boxes. “Oh! Jerusalem artichokes. Oh! rutabagas — what do I do with them?” So she will post something on the CSA’s blog or Facebook page, explaining what’s in the boxes for the week, and she often posts a recipe as well.
Miraglia said that the CSA is conscious of the fact that while many families in Montclair are fortunate enough to be able to afford a CSA membership, there are families who are unable to do so. Any vegetable shares that go unclaimed are donated to Toni’s Kitchen, the food ministry of St. Luke’s Church, which serves a hot lunch three days a week and on Christmas. Additionally, during the winter, the Bloomfield-Montclair CSA will buy a few extra bulk shares or stock shares (produce that is left over from the growing season) and donate it to Toni’s Kitchen as well.
“I try to convince everyone to just try it once,” Forrest said of encouraging people to try a CSA. “I think even five more members a year, that’s five more families we’re reaching out and touching.”
There’s also a sense of camaraderie among the members. “I think we all have shared values and we all have shared goals…it’s also a way to know people that you wouldn’t have,” Forrest said.