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Buying Straight From the Farm: A Growing Trend in MA

February 28, 2011

MIDDLEBORO & BARRE, Mass. - The popularity of eating locally grown food continues to rise in New England agriculture. The number of Massachusetts and regional farmers turning toward community-supported agriculture, or CSA, has tripled in the last decade. Under the CSA model, people buy shares in a farming operation on an annual basis. In return, the farmer provides a regular supply of fresh, natural or organic produce throughout the growing season.

James Reynolds owns The Dahlia Farm, Middleboro. He says farming is hard work, but while the rewards may not necessarily be financial, the connection to community members is priceless.

"There's definitely more of a community aspect or community feel to it. We're meeting the people who are actually consuming our product, and we're getting involved with their families, their children."

Julie Rawson owns Many Hands Organic Farm and also is the executive director of The Northeast Organic Farmers Association in Massachusetts. She has run her CSA in Barre for the last 19 years. She says farmers have a huge number of expenses going into the growing season, and this business model relieves a lot of that burden.

"When people who are buying a share put up their money up front, that helps us not have to go into debt. It's a great way for the consumer and the farmer to work symbiotically: Farmers get their money up front and then consumers get their food throughout the season. You know it's of great value to both sides."

Reynolds says a lot of misconceptions still exist about buying directly from the farm - especially regarding price.

"You can actually get farm-fresh, no-pesticide, no-chemical food at a relatively fair economic price. In other words, the super-premium price you might expect to pay isn't necessarily there with your local farms."

Reynolds advises customers to shop around before buying in to a CSA. Some farms also offer half-shares, he notes.

CSAs are not limited to produce; farmers may offer shares for eggs, cheese and other products in their weekly distribution boxes or baskets. The popularity of year-round CSAs is gaining traction, too, with some farmers growing crops in greenhouses throughout the year.

Monique Coppola, Public News Service - MA