Bounty Hunting

Bounty Hunting

M eaty red tomatoes that juice when you slice them, bulging green pods full of firm, sweet peas. They’re the stuff of dreams when the calendar says spring but the forecast says winter. Still, it’s not too soon to think about fresh summer vegetables. Shares of the area’s Community Supported Agriculture programs are ripe for the picking.

CSAs first sprouted in the 1980s, according to the US Department of Agriculture, and they’re growing nationwide. “It’s really a model that small and direct-to-consumer farms have adopted in order to have a steady source of income,” explains Jacqueline Maisonpierre, farm director at New Haven Farms. CSAs are “important because we are able to support local farms and increase the revenue that goes directly to the farmer and take out a middle person, which is creating a more viable farm system and food system… It allows the farmer to focus more on growing.”

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Customers pay in advance, which “allows farmers to have access to capital when they need it most, when they’re buying supplies, when they’re hiring staff, when they’re starting their seeds,” Maisonpierre says. In return for money invested, shareholders get a share of the crop. That has traditionally meant that CSA shares vary in content and volume, depending on the success of any given harvest.

Like fall’s apples, greater New Haven’s CSAs come in many varieties and flavors. One classic belongs to Hindinger Farm, where farmer Liz Hindinger says her family has been operating a CSA for about 14 years. From June to November, Hindinger’s 280 CSA members pick up their half ($350) or full ($600) shares at the farm’s market on Dunbar Hill Road in Hamden, where they can use a 10 percent member discount to shop for whatever they want to supplement the contents of their weekly box. “[We] want people to experience the seasons as they’re supposed to be, because people are so used to going to the grocery store and getting everything whenever they want,” Hindinger says. “We like people to experience the freshness and the seasonality of a CSA.”

New Haven Farms operates on a different model. A nonprofit founded in 2012 to “promote health and community development through urban agriculture,” says Maisonpierre, New Haven Farms cultivates seven gardens throughout the city. Low-income medical patients with diet-related health issues are referred to NHF for weekly “cooking demonstrations, nutrition classes and gardening lessons,” its website says. They then receive fresh produce to take home. The organization’s 45-member CSA, which is already full for the season, helps support its work. Members pay above market price for their shares ($425 half, $800 full), “so a portion of those proceeds are going to support shares for families that can’t afford them,” Maisonpierre explains.

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There are other CSA models in greater New Haven as well. Shares come in different sizes and different seasons. Several farms offer pickup locations in New Haven and neighboring towns. Four Root Farm in East Haddam offers a “market share”—a “hybrid selling model that combines… the best parts of the traditional CSA program and the farmers’ market,” its website says. For $500 (with a $50 bonus thrown in), market share members are credited money they can spend with Four Root throughout the season, including at CitySeed’s Wooster Square and Edgewood Park markets.

Other farms are branching out beyond produce. Stone Gardens Farm in Shelton, for example, offers a chicken CSA, and Bishop’s Orchards in Guilford offers separate shares of eggs, cheese, flowers and mushrooms. For leads on more local CSA offerings, like Massaro Community Farm in Woodbridge and Robert Treat Farm in Milford, check out LocalHarvest.org.

“I think it’s great to be able to support New Haven-area farms,” says Steph Slattery of Hamden, whose family has been a member of three different local CSAs over the years. The Slatterys left their first CSA when a farm work requirement was instituted, an unappealing option for parents of a toddler and one that seems to have disappeared from most local CSAs. Their second farm was “awesome,” Slattery says, but a long drive from home for weekly share pickups. They’re now in their third year with Gentle Giant Farm of Middlefield ($350 small, $500 medium, $650 large), which offers pickup locations in New Haven and Hamden as well as home delivery in New Haven and many neighboring towns for an additional $9.95. This season, Gentle Giant will be offering customizable shares, an idea that Slattery sees as both cutting-edge and “a little sad.” “I kind of like being forced to use up random vegetables each weekend,” she says. “I like the challenge of getting things in season and then figuring out what to make with them.”

Those veggies may not be in season yet, but rest assured the farmers are afield, and summer’s bounty is just around the corner.
Written by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Photographed by Dan Mims. Image depicts summertime tomatoes grown by New Haven Farms.

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About Kathy Leonard Czepiel

View all posts by Kathy Leonard Czepiel
Kathy Leonard Czepiel is Daily Nutmeg’s associate editor. She’s also a fiction writer, writing teacher and book club troubleshooter at KathyLeonardCzepiel.com. Her favorite New Haven scene is a packed summer concert on the Green with dinner from the food trucks, and she loves that there’s always something new to discover here.

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