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Agricultural Program Offers Fresh Produce And More

Published: March 18, 2019 at 06:00 am

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A Connecticut Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a food production and distribution system that directly connects farmers and consumers, according to the Connecticut Department of Agriculture website.

“Consumers purchase shares of a farm’s harvest in advance and then receive a portion of the crops as they’re harvested," the website states in part. "It includes products such as honey, eggs, bedding plants, fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and meat.” The farms listed with the Department of Agriculture have verified their products are completely Connecticut Grown.

At ctnofa.org, a listing of certified-organic CSA farmer participants is found, all of whom have taken a “Farmer’s Pledge” to provide organically grown produce.

Supporting farms through CSA membership means that the risk of crop failure because of bad weather or pests is shared, and allows farmers to get a head start on purchasing seed and other needed items to get crops underway early on.

One of numerous CSA programs the state is right around the corner for Newtown residents. Skip the grocery store and pick up your weekly supply of vegetables, herbs, or meats and bulk provisions through the Shortt’s Farm and Garden Center’s 2019 CSA. Early registration for the CSA program at Shortt's and other locations are suggested to be sooner rather than later, as past programs have filled up quickly.

Shortt’s Farm and Garden Center, operated by Jim and Sue Shortt, is at 52 A Riverside Road in Sandy Hook.

"I tell people who are thinking about joining a CSA, ‘If you enjoy cooking fresh seasonal food and are around a good part of the summer, it’s a great option,’” Ms Shortt said.

A  recent e-mail blast to past CSA customers stated, “We are excited to announce the details of our 2019 CSA. If you have been considering joining a CSA program, it is a wonderful way to connect you and your family directly to your food source. A weekly trip to our farm to pick up your freshly-picked veggies is what you will experience when joining our CSA. The vegetables grown on our farm are USDA-certified organic.”

 

What’s In Your Basket

The list of crops the Shortts plan on growing for the 2019 CSA includes lettuce, carrots, cherry tomatoes, sweet potatoes, slicing tomatoes, Swiss chard, summer squash, kale, winter squash, scallions, sweet peppers, onions, eggplant, bush beans, cabbage, arugula, celery, cucumbers, radish, broccoli, beets, bok choy, potatoes, Brussels sprouts, garlic, and garlic scapes.

Non-organic native sweet corn and non-organic local apples are included when in season. For customers who prefer an organic-only share, the e-mail states, “Please indicate that when you send in your check, and we will add something else to your basket.”

“We are thrilled to be partnering with Butcher’s Best once again this year to offer what we think is a great addition to our traditional CSA,” Ms Shortt’s e-mail states.

Butcher’s Best offers an “incredible product that is far superior to the grocery stores. The cost of buying your meat through the CSA is about a seven percent savings than what you would pay if you went directly to their store. We think the real savings comes from the convenience of having everything ready to pick up all in one place each week,” according to the e-mail. Shortt’s Farm has partnered with Butcher’s Best for roughly five years. BD Provisions add-ons will also be available this year.

“We are also thrilled to be partnering with BD Provisions, a new bulk grocery store located right behind Butcher’s Best; both are within Highland Plaza, at 123 South Main Street.

"If you haven’t been yet, it’s a great, innovative store with lots to offer,” states the e-mail.

CSA customers can expect “Every week, you will come to the farm to pick up an array of freshly picked veggies,” the e-mail continues. “The vegetables will be picked by us the day of your pickup and will vary each week depending on what is ready to harvest. You can expect as many as six to ten varieties of vegetables each week. Along with your basket, we also offer a ‘choice’ table most weeks. You will be able to choose a designated number of items off this table, allowing you to customize your basket to suit your specific needs.”

 

Supporting Local Agriculture

Ms Shortt offered answers to additional questions for the upcoming CSA season.

“As a CSA member, you will also have access to our popular 'pick your own' herb garden. The garden contains a number of different types of herbs and other specialty items such as hot peppers and okra. You may pick as much as you want from these beds any time throughout the season. On your first day of pickup, someone will be available to show you around the garden and give instructions on how to pick them,” she said.

The herb garden is at no additional cost.

“This has been a huge success, and members really enjoy it. If you cook with herbs, you know that a small amount of any herb from the store can be as much as $4.99, so it is a huge bonus for our customers if they choose to use it,” Ms Shortt added in a later e-mail.

A CSA “is designed for people who feel it’s important to support local agricultural in their community. It develops a relationship between the customer and the farmer in that they visit the farm weekly to pick up their share.” Consumers invest money in a “share” of the farm, Ms Shortt said. “In turn, they come to the farm weekly during the summer months and into the fall and pick up a basket of produce.

Of the BD Provisions and Butcher’s Best add-ons, Ms Shortt said, “We joined with them to connect more local businesses to our farm. It’s a convenience aspect in that you can get a lot of what you need for your weekly shopping list when you pick up your share and support other local businesses as well.

“While at the farm, [participants] are able to walk around and see what is happening, see the chickens, speak with us and ask questions, and see where and how their food is grown. Kids especially love this aspect; I have had many customers over the years tell me that their kids would not eat veggies until joining the CSA.”

This program began in 2010 with just 12 shares.

“One of the reasons CSA was developed was to give farmers a source of income in the winter months to help with farm start-up costs — purchase of seeds, greenhouse supplies, equipment, etc,” Ms Shortt explained.

“Every year, we increased the amount of shares we have. We capped off the number of shares we sell at 90,” which is the number “we feel comfortable with” as far as “being able to supply enough produce,” said Ms Shortt.

“CSA has really saved farms from going out of business. It guarantees a market for their produce, so the farmer can invest time in growing food instead of marketing their products,” Ms Shortt said. “While we still have to do some marketing… a large part of our income is from CSA and it is guaranteed, so the pressure to make certain quotas at farmers markets is reduced.”

The Shortt's Farm CSA is part “market-style.” She said, “You have a basket of what we have chosen to add to the shares that week and then we also have a ‘choice’ table where you can choose anywhere between one and four items, depending on the week.”

The choice allows participants to customize their share. “Some farms still have a ‘farmers choice’ share, while others have gone entirely ‘market-style’ to better suit each individual member. At our farm, we have decided it’s best to do a little of both,” Ms Shortt said.

 

Getting Above And Beyond

Offering additional information, Ms Shortt said, “Part of being a member of a CSA is enjoying seasonal produce. But consumers need to keep in mind that not all growing seasons are equal.”

For example, “Two years ago, Mother Nature was good to us, and we had a great season. CSA members enjoyed a bountiful summer and ended up getting close to 15 percent more than what they actually paid into their share. Last year wasn’t as great; however, CSA members still got about 5 percent more than what they paid for.”

She said, “The goal at our farm is to give the CSA member above and beyond what they paid for.” Shortts Farm often has access to produce “that we put out for members to take if they wish, especially if there is an over-abundance of a certain crop.” The farm also offers a “pick your own” herb garden that is only for CSA members.

Shortt’s Farm is a certified organic farm, “and our costs are comparable to organic produce found in the local grocery stores and often less then what is charged at the local health food stores.”

At this farm, a full share is $585. A half share is $445. The shares cover an 18-week span.

Full shares are based on assumed grocery shopping of $32.50 per week, and half shares are based on an estimated $24.75 spent each week.

The Shortts recommend a full share for a family of four, and a half share for a family of two. The value of a share may fluctuate throughout the season, but customers “will always get more than you pay for by the end of the season,” the e-mail states.

The CSA will run 18 weeks this year. Sundays (half share) and Wednesdays (full share) will be the two pickup days at the farm, after 2 pm. Tentative dates for this season are as follow: full share starts June 26; half share starts June 23.

Sign up by sending a check to Shortt’s Farm, 52A Riverside Road, Sandy Hook CT 06482. Include an e-mail address with the check.

For more information, contact farmerjim@shorttsfarmandgarden.com.

 

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