Eat Your Greens! Campus CSA Part of a “Growing” Trend
By Buzz McClain
“I don’t even consider us in the same industry as the producers of wheat and corn,” says Joshua Graves. “That’s all farmed by machine. Everything we do is by hand.”
Graves is the farm manager of Virginia Green Grocer in Warrenton, about 35 miles west of Mason’s Fairfax Campus. Each Friday, he brings a chilled truckload of cardboard boxes overflowing with fresh fruits and vegetables to the parking lot in front of University Hall where he delivers them to the 55 Mason employees and students who participate in the university’s Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. Mason’s Office of Sustainability coordinates the CSA.
A typical box of the farm’s certified organic flora is likely to be stuffed with lettuces, cabbages, beans, celery, tomatoes, beets, squash, basil, parsley, asparagus, cucumbers, Swiss chard, peppers, and any number of other savory and sweet crops of the more than 30 in the field. Contents of the boxes change with the season; cooler-weather crops in the early summer transition to warmer-weather crops as the season heats up. Half the fun of participating in a CSA is figuring out new recipes for preparing some of the things you ordinarily wouldn’t pick up in the grocery store.
The $25 weekly membership fee is “a really great deal for us compared to what vegetables like these would cost at the grocery store,” says Danielle Wyman, sustainability projects coordinator. “We like the fact that Green Grocer is flexible, with deliveries to your home, and they have monthly payments, which is not usually an option with most CSA programs.”
Too many fresh vegetables for your fridge? Wyman suggests splitting shares with friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers to enjoy the bounty. In truth, though, you can’t get enough.
The Mason CSA is part of a national trend that is growing like happy cherry tomatoes. Erin Barnett, director of LocalHarvest.org, which keeps track of CSAs, says there are more than 5,000 CSAs in their national directory, with each supplier averaging 100 members. Analysis of federal farm data shows that in 2007, the most recent figures, direct sales of farm products to consumers, including CSAs, farmers market sales, and farm stands rose 49 percent between 2002 and 2007. Direct produce sales rose in that period from $812 million to $1.2 billion.
Wyman, who is working toward an Individualized Studies master’s degree in sustainable food systems, says the CSA is part of something even more significant than that. For decades, Americans enjoyed the convenience of industrialized farming and the ready-made processed foods that it inspired following the lean years after World War II. Scientific advances in chemical fertilizers and pesticides made high-yield, year-round farming on a massive scale possible.
Of course, now we know it was rarely healthy, and the nation is paying for it in many ways. As a response, recent generations, particularly since the early 1980s when CSAs began, have rejected processed produce for locally grown organic food and practice “mindful eating.” “Locovores” and home cooks are flourishing, and CSAs are rising with the popularity.
Virginia Green Grocer will continue to bring seasonal harvests to the campus each Friday through October, Graves says, with deliveries perhaps into the winter. And as for next year?
“Every year the soil gets better,” he says. “The big farms don’t get that.”
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