The valuables at seasonal farmer s markets, besides the peck of peaches or two pounds of green beans, are the people you meet and the information gleaned. The produce that is as fresh as the air in the open markets, and the smiling vendors who hope their tomatoes will attract you to their stand instead of to their neighbor s, are alluring.
Both farm folks and customers walking from vendor to vendor at this time of year like to talk. The experience turns out to be more than shopping for produce; you can learn a lot if you ask questions and listen.
As an example, I probably would have never known about CSA, Community Supported Agriculture, had I not unexpectedly stopped at the Adrian Farmers Market last Saturday morning.
Emily Pedersen was one of the most talkative and informative people there. Emily is a college student who would rather talk about agriculture and fresh produce than soccer and literature. She says she grew up in Lansing s inner city and now has a strong connection to country life. A student at Warren Wilson College in Asheville, N.C., Emily s goal is to have her own farm someday.
Her major at Warren Wilson is sustainable agriculture, and her plans are to study organic farming at Michigan State University.
In the meantime, she is an intern at Needle Lane Farms, near Tipton, Mich., and is excited about helping Needle Lane owner Beverly Ruesink in the CSA project.
CSA is a share the fresh crop program for subscribers who pay for their shares in advance of the planting. It is a national trend. In Michigan, the Michigan State University county extension service and the product center in Lansing help farmers formulate plans for CSA businesses.
Customers have a choice of share sizes at different prices. Full-season shares are for 20 weeks, from May through October. Summer season shares are for 12 weeks from July through September.
Family-size shares are packed into bushel boxes; single-size shares are in half-bushel boxes.
The CSA guideline is that the produce is picked no more than 48 hours before the customer receives it. The first boxes of the season are filled with greens and herbs. The boxes are heavier later in the growing season when tomatoes, peppers, and squash are picked and packed.
If all goes as planned it is a win-win program for both farmer and customer. The customer is guaranteed a weekly half or full bushel of a variety of produce and knows where the food is coming from. The farmer has a guaranteed market.
It is understood that weather patterns differ each year and can alter production. In a hot and dry year the peppers and winter squash may thrive, but broccoli and lettuce could be disappointing. Planting a large variety of vegetables and up-to-date irrigation methods are safeguards to offset crop uncertainty and guarantee the customer some delivery.
Emily was anxious to open a half-bushel box ready for a customer to proudly show off the contents, which included dewy yellow carrots with the tops on to insure a farm connection, Emily said, plus red oak leaf lettuce, snow peas, a pound of potatoes, a large bunch of basil, green beans, onion, and summer squash.
Customers have options of where to pick up the boxes that are packed at the farm. Needle Lane customers can get their boxes at the Adrian Farmers Market or the Tecumseh Farmers Market on Saturdays, or at the farm on Tuesday.
Davin Heckman couldn t wait to open his weekly box of produce when he picked it up at the market that morning. A teacher at Siena Heights College in Adrian, Mr. Heckman praised the system as a good value for his wife and two children. I grew up in Los Angeles and knew nothing about these things. It s the idea of buying local and a feeling of security for my family.