Open-air farmers markets are hard to come by in January in the Upstate. While subscription services have been trending in recent years, one form of farm-fresh delivery is helping Greenvillians eat healthy all year round: the CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture program.
Community Supported Agriculture has been practiced in the United States since the 1980s, according to the South Carolina Department of Agriculture’s website, which notes the concept originated in Switzerland and Japan in the 1960s.
In a CSA program, shareholders pay one large fee to a farmer before the growing season begins. The farmer uses the influx of cash to invest in updating facilities or buying seeds. In return for their support, CSA members get regular portions of the harvest.
At Bioway Farms in Ware Shoals, farmer Chris Sermons has run his CSA program for 10 years. Every Thursday, approximately 30 members of the Bioway CSA come out to the farm to pick up their shares. “CSAs are the most direct way to support local farms and the local food system. Our food system is only healthy to the degree that we participate in it,” says Sermons, whose farm is certified organic.
Sermons says some of his CSA members are regulars, and some just recently found Bioway’s program by Googling it. At The Anchorage in the Village of West Greenville, a farm-to-restaurant model helps attract CSA members for The Anchorage’s farm partner, Horseshoe Farm.
“The hardest thing when you’re out in the field is actually breaking away and marketing and delivering and figuring out how to procure new CSA members,” says Greg McPhee, owner of The Anchorage and partner at Horseshoe Farm. “Balancing that with the market demand while figuring out how to pay yourself is a struggle, but I think we can more easily get exposure in the long term because of our anchor in the West End.”
While The Anchorage-Horseshoe CSA started in spring 2019, The Anchorage is shooting for 65 shares in the 2020 spring season. “The commitment and money allow us to invest in larger projects and make products better and make the lives of the farmers a little bit easier,” McPhee says.
For now, Horseshoe Farm’s CSA pickups are on Thursdays at The Anchorage, which helps the farmers keep their margins from growing too thin.
“The logistics could very easily make it not worth your time if you have to deliver,” says Chris Miller, farm manager at Horseshoe Farm.
“We try to couple everyone’s favorites — carrots, beets, turnips, salad greens — with more unique culinary products. Greg writes up veggie notes with cooking tips, or we’ll try to give a message from the farm,” Miller says. “We try to connect people with the food, especially if it’s their first time with a CSA and they’re not familiar with the relationship.”
McPhee says it’s usually the unconventional vegetables that thrill members the most.
The Swamp Rabbit Cafe and Grocery also acts as a local drop-off point for CSA shares from local farms, such as Bioway or Growing Green Family Farm of Anderson.
For those veggie lovers who are not yet ready to take the full CSA leap, produce manager Samantha Clawson spends her days packing the Swamp Rabbit Cafe’s produce boxes, which have been offered for five years.
“Our longest-running regular has been buying the boxes for three years,” Clawson says, “and I always ask her, ‘What do you want in your box this week?’ But she always wants to try new things.”
What Are CSAs?
- Introduced to the U.S. from Europe in the mid-1980s
- Originated in the 1960s in Switzerland and Japan
- Growers and consumers provide mutual support and share risks
- Shareholders cover costs of farm operation
- In return, they receive shares of the farm’s crops in growing season
Source: South Carolina Department of Agriculture