BANGOR, Maine — Winter is far from over — March in Maine being one of the snowiest and most blustery of months — but inside the Unitarian Universalist Church on Park Street on Sunday afternoon, spring got off to an early start.
About a dozen area farmers were on hand, looking to sign up partners for their community supported agriculture programs. Area residents turned out to meet the farmers and get a preview of the bountiful harvests ahead.
“I feel like I’m building a relationship with a farmer … so they can concentrate on their farming and know they have a market,” said Laura Binger, who helped organize the event. “And I get the benefit of knowing my food is safe and locally grown. And it’s delicious.”
Community supported agriculture, or CSA, promotes the pleasures of eating local foods grown by local farmers, encouraging consumers to prepurchase a season’s worth of fresh vegetables, fruits, flowers, herbs, eggs, meats, baked goods, dairy products and other farm products. The model allows growers to plan their growing seasons with more confidence, knowing they have a built-in core of customers instead of relying solely on farmers markets and roadside stands to sell the foods they produce.
Some CSA farms deliver boxes of fresh produce to a central location to be picked up by their customers.
“We pick what’s in season, wash it, pack it up and deliver it to the Central Street Farmhouse [in Bangor],” said Mary Margaret Ripley of Ripley Farm in Dover-Foxcroft. For $375, consumers get a delivery every week for 16 weeks — “a rich diversity of the highest quality produce,” according to the farm’s brochure. Customers also may drive out to visit the Ripley farm to pick up their produce, saving a little money in the process.
The pleasure — and the challenge — of participating in CSA comes in building a healthful seasonal menu around the local bounty, said Ripley.
“It can take a little creativity on the part of the consumer,” she said. “But every week you’re going to be eating a green salad. You’ll always have carrots for snacks. In the summer, you’ll have beautiful tomatoes for your sandwiches.”
For consumers, a prepaid CSA order means a bountiful boxful of fresh, local food to unpack and enjoy every week. The contents vary according to the season and to what the farmer plants. Most orders include some staple items: fresh salad greens, for example, or a dozen eggs and some early red potatoes. Farmers often fill in the corners of the orders with surprises such as a pastel bouquet of sweet peas or a bundle of fresh, fragrant herbs. Some farms offer smaller orders better suited to one- or two-person households.
Liz Rettenmaier of Bangor came to the CSA fair with her daughter Charlotte, who is 3 years old. For the past couple of years, she has participated in the CSA program at the Vine and Branch Farm on outer Hammond Street in Bangor.
“We get fresh vegetables throughout the summer that are locally grown,” she said. “We drive out to the farm to pick up our share and visit the animals.”
Some farms provide CSA credits to be used at farmers markets.
“You pay us $100 at the beginning of the season and you get $110 worth of credit at the farmers market,” explained Mark Guzzi, owner of Peacemeal Farm in Dixmont. “That gives us a little more start-up money, and the customer gets a little extra ‘thank you’ at the market.” Peacemeal Farm regularly sets up at farmers markets in Orono, Belfast, Camden and Waterville.
Bryce and Fran Laslow came to the fair to learn more about community supported agriculture.
“I like vegetables, and I like them to be fresh and organically grown,” Fran Laslow said. “If you get them from a local farmer, they were picked that morning, and you can’t get much fresher than that.”
Many farmers accept food stamps and federal Senior Share subsidies for their CSA programs.
More information about community supported agriculture is available at the website of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.