When searching for a community supported agriculture program to become a member of there are several things to consider, such as pricing, location, and direct benefits. While those practicalities are critical, there may also be more value-driven reasons to investigate when determining which CSA is right for you.
While there are certainly specific practical reasons we’d advocate for our CSA share being your #1 choice, we also want to highlight some intrinsic reasons that might resonate with you and your personal values.
Direct Benefits and Practicalities
The CSA at Schul Farmstead is a 20-week vegetable share that runs from mid-June until the end of October. Members purchase a share for the entire growing season and in return receive a pack of vegetables, approximately valued at $32 each week.
The vegetables in the share vary from week to week according to the harvest calendar. We also include some fruits too, such as muskmelon, water melon, and apples. Have a look at our CSA Share Examples & Crop Calendar.
Our farm is located in the town of Cambria, less than a 20-minute drive away from most areas of western Niagara County and about 30 minutes from northern Erie County suburbs. We’re smack dab between Niagara Falls and Lockport, directly off of Route 31 (Saunders Settlement Road).
Each week our members arrive at the farm during pick up day’s open hours. Armed with the reusable bag our member brings, we quickly pack their share.
Our members expect to enjoy 7-11 varieties, including a 7oz. bag of salad mix (the greens inside vary from week to week) and a bundle of fresh herbs (varies throughout the season). If a member has opted to become a member of one of our add-on shares, then we put those items in their bag too.
Confidence in How Your Food is Grown
On our farm we grow all of our community supported agriculture (CSA) and farmers market vegetables without the use of conventional, synthetic, or artificial fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides. The amendments that we use to aid in plant growth come directly from the earth (peak into this book to see what we mean) or from our cows’ aged manure.
To mitigate pests, we practice a careful rotation of our crops, companion planting, and work to create a habitat for beneficial pollinators and insects. These practices help us to avoid the use of pesticides that are harmful to humans, insects, wildlife, soil, and water.
We view ourselves as stewards of the soil and practice growing methods that create a thriving soil bed, such as utilizing cover crops, minimum to no-tillage, and mulching. A majority of our seed is sourced from organic seed producers, and when it can’t be, we purchase heirloom seed varieties to preserve the biodiversity of our food culture.
When we say that the only things that have touched your vegetables are water, sunshine, compost, aged cow manure, bugs, and our hands – we mean it!
This sounds like a lot of extra work, so you might wonder why do we do we farm in this way?
First and foremost, these are the vegetables that I want to eat and feed to my family. I personally feel more comfortable eating produce that has not been treated with harmful chemicals. Buying organic at the grocery store was (and still is) difficult depending on what type of produce I was looking to buy – that’s why we’ve grown much of our own for years.
Secondly, we believe it’s critical to create and care for the land in a more sustainable way. The climate crisis is real and it is impacting weather, wildlife, and humankind. It’s important that we farm in a way that reflects that reality and do what we can in our small corner of the world to mitigate its effects, such as maximizing carbon sequestration by minimizing and eliminating tillage and keeping the soil covered throughout the entire year.
As a member of our CSA, your 20-week share isn’t just packed with 7-11 vegetable varieties each week – it’s packed full of high-quality vegetables grown with an intention to care for and protect the farm’s soil, water, insects, and pollinators.
Savoring Heirloom Vegetable Varieties
I want you to think of your favorite meal – the one you savor each time it crosses your path. (Mine’s lasagna made with sweet and juicy tomatoes). Now imagine that throughout your life, one of the specific ingredients (sweet and juicy tomatoes) no longer became available because it was no longer being grown, produced, sold, etc. Instead, a different ingredient was being substituted (acidic, dry tomatoes). Now your favorite meal has changed – it’s become altered because no one grew, produced, or sold what made the dish its own.
If all of the seeds that grow into sweet juicy tomatoes disappeared, my mom’s lasagna wouldn’t be the same.
By growing, harvesting, and enjoying heirloom vegetables through our CSA, members help to ensure that unique varieties do not go extinct.
“Heirloom” indicates the documented history and heritage of a seed, passed down from one generation to the next, often within a family or community. Like any heirloom, such as sterling silver silverware or a diamond necklace, these seeds were passed on because they were determined to have value. It may have been the seed’s distinct flavor, color, size, or even its reliability to grow in a particular soil or climate condition. For whatever reason, that vegetable’s seeds were saved (and eaten) year after year, after year.
Heirloom seeds are “open-pollinated,” meaning in order to grow more, the plant must be pollinated by insects, birds, wind, or other natural means and retain the same traits down through the generations. This means, you could save the seeds from the tomato variety that you enjoyed in your CSA share and plant it the following year to enjoy the same flavor.
Some heirloom seed varieties have been documented to have been grown for the last 100 years. No doubt seed saving (and sharing) was a regular practice of many families and communities prior to the creation of large seed companies (1880s) and hybrid seeds (1951), including the indigenous peoples of North America. Take a look at this excerpt from The Organic Seed Grower to learn more.
Today, our farm grows heirloom seed varieties for multiple reasons. Sometimes it’s the unique color or patterning, other times it’s the flavor or hardiness, or just the documented “origin” story intrigues me. Regardless, one reason stands above all others – growing heirloom seed varieties is a critical part of the world’s agricultural heritage and by growing heirloom seeds it helps ensure the preservation of genetic diversity of plant species.
If you’re thinking – have I ever eaten an heirloom seed variety before? Here are examples included in our CSA and at our stand at the farmers markets:
- Cherry Roma Tomato and Bumble Bee Cherry Tomato
- Scarlet Kale and Red Russian Kale and Anuenue Lettuce and Rainbow Chard
- Parisian Market Carrot and Chioggia Beet and Gilfeather Rutabaga
- Pippin’s Golden Honey Pepper and Black Beauty Pepper
- Rossa di Milano Onion and NY Early Onion and Alisa Craig Onion
You’re Equipped with Knowledge
The saying goes, “knowledge is power.” We couldn’t agree more. Knowing what vegetable you have in front of you, how to prepare, and recipe options for enjoying are a crucial piece of maximizing your CSA experience.
After all, you didn’t just purchase a CSA share membership simply for the intrinsic benefits. You actually want to eat the vegetables!
Our members receive access to multiple resources throughout the season. It starts with accessing our membership agreement. This document outlines the expectations for the season, along with logistics for pick up, payments, etc. We believe it’s critical for our members to understand what to expect from us, their farmers, and what we expect from them.
All members receive access to our A-Z Produce Storage Guide. This outlines how to store produce – even items we don’t have in our share like citrus- both in the fridge and in the freezer. The guide also identifies what produce needs to be consumed immediately (within 1-3 days) and what can be eaten later (within 7-14 days).
Each Sunday during the season, members also receive an e-newsletter identifying what vegetables will be in the share for that week and highlighting tips for making the most of the CSA experience. In the email we often highlight news from the farm, allowing our members to get an up-close-and-personal look at how the farm changes throughout the season. This helps our members understand how the season shifts and why the vegetables that appear in the share also shift.
What good are farm-fresh vegetables if you don’t know what to make with them? Simple – they’re not. That’s why we created the CSA Recipe Book – a digital e-book that can be accessed throughout the season with more than 75 recipes – with at least 50 of them ready in 30 minutes or less. Many of the recipes are ones we’ve hunted down from other websites, some are our own recipes and dishes that we’ve made countless times in our kitchens (like zucchini cobbler), and some have even been added after being shared from past CSA members.
New in 2023 to our members is a resource guide that provides in depth information about each vegetable, including its nutritional profile, how to chop/dice it for best results, and other helpful information. Like all of our resources, the resource guide is a digital offering for our members.
Connection to the farmer, agriculture and farming community
When I was growing up I was able to name other dairy farms and farmers that lived/operated within a 5-10 mile radius of my house. I could even name three vegetable growers/markets – Kydd’s on Route 31, Wagner’s on Lockport Road, and Rhinehart Farms on Route 104.
For most people, understandably, this is not the reality. Grocery stores have provided us with a plethora of options for produce no matter the time of year. Which is really a phenomenal privilege!
But with all of that everything-I-want-at-my-fingertips, we’ve lost the direct connection to farms and the names (and faces) of the people who grow our food. The larger, industrialized farms have made it difficult for the smaller family farms to survive, as they are able to drive down prices with their increased volume of harvests.
This is why community supported agriculture became a feature of the local agriculture movement in the first place. A CSA share program allowed members to connect to a farm and farmer, growing the produce that was in-season for the region.
During pick up, or if you stop by our stand at the farmers market, we encourage people to ask questions. Ask me things! Let me talk about vegetables over small talk, I beg of you!
I know so much about what is in your share – I selected and ordered the seeds; I started, transplanted, mulched, and weeded the seedlings; I determined the CSA harvest list for the week; I harvested, washed, and packed your vegetables; and I prepared and ate the same vegetables you are enjoying.
I will be the first to admit that I don’t know everything, but I have an intimate knowledge of what you are consuming, so please ask any question that you have. I am a resource!
Do you want to ask about something adjacent to the vegetable you’re eating – like how did I get into farming in the first place, what happens on the farm in January, or was my grandfather Roy Schul? (the answer is yes)? Go ahead! Ask away – let’s chat about things and explore more about the local agriculture community together.
This is what life and farming is all about – people making connections with one another and the world around them.
Even if you hesitate to ask the questions that really burn inside you about our farm, vegetables, or agriculture in general, you can always get snippets of this in our blog posts, on our social media accounts (are you following us on Facebook or Instagram?), and members receive little vignettes in our weekly e-newsletter.
And even if you’re too busy to connect in the ways mentioned above, simply by being a member of a CSA share program you are connected to the local agriculture community. As a member you experience the farm-to-table movement and lessen the miles your food travels from field to fork.