A Kentlands Community Foundation Go Green program focused on Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) on Feb. 16. Go Green co-chairs Alex Stavitsky-Zeindeddin and Jennifer Allen asked Caroline Taylor, executive director of the Montgomery Countryside Alliance (MCA), to talk about how to sign up for fresh local produce.
The mission of Go Green, said Stavitsky-Zeindeddin, who started the group about seven years ago, “is to educate the community—inclusive of all Gaithersburg residents and anyone else who may want to attend—about environmental issues and topics of interest.” They invited Taylor because, she explained, “we thought it would be great to have people aware of the opportunities to support local farmers and local food by buying a share—and to get people to eat more veggies.”
Through education and legislative initiative, the Poolesville-based MCA works to protect the natural resources and working lands of the 100,000-acre Agricultural Reserve, “a nationally-acclaimed land-use plan established in 1980 in response to the rapid disappearance of Montgomery County farms.” The Reserve is home to some 500 farms, most them equestrian, Taylor said, and its low-density zoning (one home for 25 acres) favors farming, forest preservation and water protection.
Taylor, who has been with MCA since 2009, has focused on environmental and agricultural issues through most of her career. She “learned about farming as a child in Idaho on family farms and ranches,” and owned and operated a Montgomery County landscaping business that specialized in natural landscaping and xeriscaping (a style requiring little or no irrigation).
CSAs, said Taylor, “are an increasingly popular way for consumers to buy their seasonal produce (fruit, vegetables, herbs)—and at some CSAs, meat, dairy and poultry—directly from a local farm.” The concept, which came to the U.S. from Europe in the 1980s as an “alternative to mass-grown non-local production,” benefits both farmers and consumers, she said. “Agricultural partnership provides security for the farm enterprise by having consumers purchase their ‘share’ before the growing season (paying in January for the June through November season) and, in turn, the farmer then provides the consumer bounty each week through the season.” Some farms, she noted, offer extended seasons.
For consumers, buying local ensures a source of food that is produced by farmers who employ sustainable growing practices that avoid using chemicals, resulting in superior taste, quality and freshness as well as greater variety. Many CSAs offer recipes for using unfamiliar plants or parts of plants few realize are edible.
For the farmer, added Amanda Cather, an owner of Plough and Stars Farm who accompanied Taylor, the CSA relationship is “tremendously rewarding. You don’t have to worry about marketing; everything you put in the ground has a home.”
The CSA concept functions to bolster the whole community on several bases. “Partnering with your family’s farmer builds strong community,” Taylor observed, “helps preserve farmland, grows strong local economy, brings extraordinarily fresh and diverse food to your table … (and) fosters a direct connection to agriculture that is too often missing today.”
CSAs vary in flexibility in terms of quantity, choices and allowing customers to split shares or alternate weeks. For pickups, some deliver to central locations, while others offer farm pickups only.
Even Stavitsky-Zeindeddin, an active environmentalist, learned a thing or two. “I realized that there are so many farms so close to us that provide a wide variety of products including organic and a large variety of fruits and vegetables, herbs, cheeses, meats … more than what I was aware of,” she said. In addition, she “learned that farmers are also helping the public learn how to cook the variety of vegetables that they grow so that it makes it easier for people to know what to do with vegetables that they may not be familiar with.”
Taylor recommended that residents first consult the MCA website—www.mocoalliance.org—to learn about the opportunities for participation (some CSAs are at capacity), and then proceed to contact and visit the farms. Questions may be addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org.