Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Local CSA Receives Support From USDA

Here is a story written back in January 2013 on our local CSA. Although not all information may be the same, I thought I could still share it.

Many people have heard the benefits of purchasing produce from the local farmers market. Today people are taking a step further by becoming shareholders of their local farms.

The shareholders, or members, financially support the farm in the upcoming season, assisting the farm with overhead costs and allowing the farm to educate the community about sustainable agriculture. In return, members receive shares of the crops throughout the season. 

Fertile Grounds, a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) located in Noxen, is starting off its third year providing the community with locally grown produce, education, and value-added products. 

After being awarded a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in April 2012, Fertile Grounds has hired a full-time outreach coordinator, Leanne Mazurick.

"As outreach coordinator I wear many hats," Mazurick said in an e-mail. Mazurick is responsible for attending events in the community, educating others about CSA's, and recruiting members.     

At Fertile Grounds, people pay a $500 fee early in the 22-week season to become a member. Once a week, members pick up their shares, or box of produce containing six to ten different crops, from one of their pick up locations.

Deb Shoval, project director at Fertile Grounds, is making it a point this year to grow more produce members want, such as broccoli, potatoes, and tomatoes. But Shoval also wants to open up more members to kale, collards, and kohlrabi.

"It's going to be seasonal," said Patricia Garrett, CSA member since 2010. On top of being an avid cook, Garrett also freezes and preserves her food. "I'm pretty well set for the winter."

Mazurick is also responsible for managing the one-acre pick-your-own field located behind the education center at Hillside Farms. The pick-your-own field is available to CSA members who want to bulk up on their produce when they stop by Hillside Farms to pick up their share.

"It's a win-win for both of us," Mazurick said.

Providing healthy food grown in a sustainable manner is a goal both Fertile Grounds and Hillside Farms share, according to Suzanne Kelly, director of development at Hillside Farms. When individuals get to see where their food is coming from more of a connection exists, which is missing today, Kelly said.

"Usually by late June the field will be open," said Mazurick. "Early on folks can pick herbs [basil, sage, rosemary, thyme...] and flowers, and later in the season they will be able to harvest tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, cucumbers and tomatillos."

Educational signs are posted throughout the pick-your-own field informing individuals of the plant's health benefits and scientific background. "Families can teach their children where food comes from," Kelly said.                                                    

Fertile Grounds reached 150 members in 2012, according to Shoval, who is hoping to see that number double in 2013. "When people buy one membership it's usually a couple, or a family buying a membership," said Shoval, who is responsible for thinking six months to five years ahead.

Shoval's goal is to use the grant money slowly over time to create jobs in sustainable agriculture through value-added products. According to Shoval, anything that increases the value of the crop post-harvest constitutes "value-added," including every box of produce picked up by a member.

"I make value-added products such as pesto and dressing to be sold at farmers markets," said Mazurick, who also represents the farm at several farmers markets. 

Fertile Grounds received the grant through the USDA's Rural Developments 'Value-Added Producer Grant' (VAPG) program. The primary objective of the VAPG program is to help agricultural producers enter into value-added activities, according to the USDA.

"Just to be clear, that money is given to us over a long period of time," said Shoval. "When the grant runs out in 2014, we have to stand on our own two feet."

Right now Mazurick is busy outreaching to local, like-minded businesses such as yoga studios, wellness centers, and restaurants. The Brown Barn Cafe, located in Shavertown, buys shares of produce from Fertile Grounds and also provides cooking demonstrations, according to Shoval.  

One cooking demonstration covered "what you can do with what's in your box," said John Costello, owner of The Brown Barn Cafe. Costello provided members of the CSA with different techniques on preparing an expected week’s box of produce.   

A variety of activities are available for CSA members. Pot-luck picnics, educational events, and garden tours help build community and make people feel like they are more than just members of the farm, according to Mazurick.

Members can also volunteer at the soup kitchen. All produce that is not picked up by members is delivered to the Saint Vincent De Paul Soup Kitchen in Wilkes-Barre. "It was nice to form a relationship with the soup kitchen and take some time to volunteer with them rather than just dropping off donations," Mazurick said.

For more information about membership, community events, or how to volunteer at Fertile Grounds CSA, visit its website at

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