CSA part of pull away from corporate food

Thomas Christenfeld is puzzled by what he sees as "the current political obsession" by government fo

Thomas Christenfeld is puzzled by what he sees as “the current political obsession” by government for expanding community-supported agriculture.

Last week, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., co-sponsored a bill to create a competitive grant program to promote CSA , as it’s known, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo cited the concept in his January State of the State address as a quality-of-life issue.

Responds Christenfeld, “It would be lovely if all Americans had access to a weekly box of good, fresh, local produce, but it would be even better for this country if we focused on simply getting most Americans to eat vegetables other than french fries and tomato sauce and little bits of lettuce confetti on their Big Macs.” Christenfeld is a farmer in Easton, Washington County, where he grows dozens of varieties of vegetables, herbs and fruit — some common, like beans and peppers, and others more exotic, like daikon and kohlrabi. He says about three-quarters of the income from the 10 acres he cultivates at The Alleged Farm on Cooke Hollow Road is attributable to CSA .

Under the practice, farmers and consumers join together, with the latter putting up money to help finance a growing season and the former pledging to share the harvest. Gillibrand and Cuomo view CSA as healthy to small farms and local diets alike.

No one is sure how many CSA farms now exist in this country, although one oft-cited resource says its national directory lists 4,425. The self-reported database includes 315 New York CSA farms, with about 35 in the Capital Region.

This season, Christenfeld’s CSA has 180 members, a bit fewer than last year. He had hoped to reach 200, “but it proved to be a surprisingly tough year to sell shares and to hang on to members.” For each $475 share (some early birds got discounts), members were promised a weekly produce delivery from mid-June through early November; just what is delivered depends on each week’s bounty. Drop-offs occur around the region.

Christenfeld started farming in 1995 and adopted the CSA model in 1997. In between, he sold mainly at farmers markets, but he found them “somewhat frustrating” because shoppers did not seem to appreciate the crops that interested him: “Asian eggplants and bok choi and heirloom tomatoes in unusual colors.” Now he sells at just one farmers market, in Glens Falls on Saturday.

He’s a thoughtful farmer who pens weekly newsletters in which he ponders the horror of store-bought salad dressing or ruminates on the psyche of beet-nibbling rodents. The missives also are posted on The Alleged Farm’s website.

Christenfeld’s facility with words comes from an earlier gig in publishing. “What led me from that to being a farmer?” he asks, answering practically: “I like to eat. I like vegetables. I had a normal job once and didn’t like it. I enjoy being able to walk to work. We bought a piece of land, and I felt like I should use it.” The farm’s name came from the shorthand he and his wife used (she was in law school at the time) as they planned for the property — “the alleged farm” — even before owning it.

Of the new attention being accorded CSA , he says, “As a CSA farmer, I appreciate the thought.” But a better goal would be to shift farm policy away from serving the interests of “large-scale, corporate food production and distribution,” where Christenfeld thinks it now lies.

“Promoting CSAs seems like a tangential way to get there, but it couldn’t hurt.”

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