Aug. 2, 2008— -- On the hot, dusty Stoneledge Farm in the foothills of upstate New York's Catskill mountains, an exhausting harvest is under way.
Garlic is the crop they're picking today, but farm owner Deborah Kavakos and her family aren't the only ones doing the work. They're getting help from some relative strangers who have a real stake in how these crops are grown.
"I'd like to buy a farm, that's how excited I am," said Jill Stern, one of the people there helping the Kavakos family.
In a sense, she has bought the farm. And so have all the other people who showed up on a recent weekend. They've purchased shares in Stoneledge Farm. It's called Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA And it's an idea that's taken root.
Here's how it works. Members of the CSA pay around $450 a year for shares in the Kavakos' small organic farm. In return, they get a weekly delivery of fresh fruits and vegetables from June to November. They can also schedule a visit to the farm to see how the crops are growing, and they can help cultivate the vegetables, too.
"More than just buying the produce, they really are connected to a farm, our farm, in a way that I don't think you can just get, by either going to a farmer's market or going to a store to buy the produce," Deborah Kavakos said.
There are now more than 1500 of these CSA's nationwide, some with waiting lists. Membership is surging as food scares become more common.
"The spinach [scare] a couple of years ago, tomatoes and jalapenos more recently. People are really thinking more about where their food is coming from, what happens to it between the farm and their plate. And CSA gives them that really direct connection, of knowing who's growing their food and where it's coming from and how it's being grown," said Paula Lukats, the program manager for Just Food, a non-profit agency that helps establish CSAs in New York City.
Essentially, members of CSA programs by-pass the grocery store. And members say, they save a lot of money in the process.
"I couldn't find the same quality without paying at least double for what we're getting," member Patricia Janof said. "So it's a fantastic discount, actually."
And it's also a "green" way to get your greens. The produce typically travels just a few miles from farm to table, as opposed to store-bought vegetables, which travel an average of 1500 miles to get to you, using a lot more fuel.
Members join not just for the freshness of the produce, but also for the uniqueness. Farmers grow vegetables like Boothby's Blonde cucumbers and rat-tailed radishes, a strange radish grown in a pod, much like a pea.
As with all farming, there are risks. If the crop fails due to seed damage, drought or bad weather, members are stuck paying for food they might not get. But that rarely happens.
And members say the risk is worth the reward, when the tasty vegetables arrive on their table every week.