Skip to main content

North Hills Monthly

Fresh from the Farm to Your Table: Local CSAs Offer Fresh Produce While Supporting the Community

Apr 30, 2015 02:43PM ● By Clare Heekin Lynch

“Anytime I can get away with knowing where my food comes from, I take advantage of that,” said avid CSA participant and Mars resident, Alma Staskiewicz. 

Staskiewicz is not alone in her thinking. With society’s emphasis on healthier eating, people have slowly switched their mindsets to wanting to know where their food really comes from and the process that it takes to get from the farm to the table. Eating trends have evolved back to a simpler time when being organic and sustainable was not only best for our bodies, but good for supporting local small businesses and the economy as well. 

Community Supported Agriculture, better known as CSA, is taking an increasingly important role in the way we look at what we put into our mouths. CSA is a process in which community members have direct access to high quality and fresh produce grown locally by regional farmers. In a CSA, you become a member by purchasing a seasonal ‘share’ of fruits and vegetables from a regional farmer. Shares come in all sizes, from small (perfect for families of two), to medium and large (ideal for families of three or more). For 22 to 26 weeks, roughly running from June through October or November, a member can choose the frequency of pickup (weekly or bi-weekly), and the farmer will either deliver that share of produce to a convenient drop-off location, or the member can pick it up directly from the farm. 

CSA members typically pay for an entire season of produce upfront (usually ranging from $300 to $600) as this early bulk payment enables the farmer to plan for the season, including purchasing new seed, making repairs to equipment, and paying for workers to help sow the crops. In addition to what you would receive in the ‘normal’ share, many CSAs also offer the option of either trading out something you don’t like for more of another type of produce, or the opportunity to add on eggs, meat or even flowers to your order for a few extra dollars a week. 

Gibsonia farm owner Jane Dillner of Dillner Family Farm is constantly surveying her customers to find out their likes and dislikes in order to better serve their needs. “We want to be able to bring to market the items our customers want, and we’ve found that it really works out well,” she said. “In addition, we offer swap boxes at farm pickup so that our customers really feel that they are getting what they pay for.” The Dillner’s farm offers more than 100 varieties of fruits, vegetables and herbs to choose from and each weekly share offers between six and 12 items of that week’s fresh-picked produce.

There are many different farms throughout the Pittsburgh region offering CSA pickup and drop-off locations, which is key to getting fresh produce into more urban areas where access to fresh foods can be scarce. Research shows that community members, especially youth, benefit greatly when more locally sourced fruits and vegetables are available and incorporated into daily meals. A recent study done by a team at the Saint Louis University Medical Center published in the April issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, confirms that children who regularly eat homegrown fruits and vegetables eat more than twice as much of those healthy foods as kids who seldom get fresh-from-the-garden produce on their plates. Furthermore, when children are involved with the growing, choosing and cooking of their food, it improves their diet. 

Knowing this enables Dillner to continue to thrive in this ever-changing economy. “We’ve been providing our customers a variety of fresh food, picked at its most flavorful peak, for more than 10 years now,” she said. “It is so important to us to be able to offer this healthy option to our communities.”

Dillner’s sustainable farm also educates people on the process of growing healthy, local foods. “Throughout the month of May, we offer tours on our 200-acre farm so that our neighbors can see who we are and how we care for what they eat,” she said. “We show them the high tunnels, a sort of greenhouse where we plant the seeds to help extend the growing season, and the fields where many of the plants will be transplanted. We also explain the role that our 20 beehives play in the process of pollinating crops. 

She added, “There are just so many different ways to farm using sustainable techniques that will protect the environment, our public health, the surrounding communities, and our animal friends, too.”

To learn more about buying fresh while supporting local families, check out one of the many farms servicing our region.