What is a CSA?
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a partnership between a local farm (or group of farms) and members of the surrounding community. The farm(s) pledges to grow food for the community and the community pledges to support the farm. It is a direct food-to-consumer relationship, connecting a community with its food source. By making a financial commitment to a farm, people become “members” of the CSA.
In the winter and early spring, members buy a share of the harvest--the farmers then use this money for seeds, greenhouse expenses, equipment, labor, etc. In return, members receive a weekly distribution of the farm’s products - members’ investment is returned in healthful, vibrant food, as fresh as it gets!
CSAs support sustainable and responsible land management, a shrinking carbon footprint, and communities that can nourish themselves. A community is formed by the members of a CSA and the farmers who produce their food. A CSA gives the farmers a sure market and a gauge to produce by, minimizing losses and ensuring the success of the farm.
The basic CSA model has many different practical variations depending on the preferences of each farm and community. Some CSAs serve about 20 households, while some serve over 1000. Some CSAs require that members come to the farm in order to pick up their produce; some offer delivery options. On some CSA farms, the farmers choose what produce will be included in the weekly share, while others allow members to choose their own assortment each week, depending on what is available and in season.
The Full Plate Farm Collective CSA offers about 450 shares to households in the Ithaca area. Members can decide when they join whether they would like to pick up their weekly share at one of the farms or have it delivered. Full Plate members who pick up at one of the farms can choose what they’d like to take home (according to what’s in season and what’s available that week), and members who opt for delivery receive a farmer-picked assortment of that week’s harvest.
Nearly all CSAs are organic farms. Our three farms are all organic and two are also biodynamic. You can read more about organic and biodynamic farming below.
What is organic farming?
Organic farming is growing food without the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, fertilizers or genetically modified organisms (GMO’s). Organic food is synthetic chemical free! This is important because food grown with the use of synthetic chemicals contains traces, residues and often harmful levels of the chemicals used during its production. Each organically grown head of lettuce may look a little different than the one growing next to it - that’s natural! Chemicals were introduced to agriculture for various reasons, one of which was to make the vegetables grow more uniformly - easier to wash, pack and ship. Individuality in vegetables makes mass processing more challenging. We aren’t mass producing, packing and shipping our vegetables - we are growing them for the people who live right near us, in our community. We love all the quirky shapes our eggplants grow in, the way the tomatoes grow in just the right size for a tomato sandwich or a family size antipasto, and carrots that grow twisting around each other like dance partners.
Organic farmers are always looking ahead, asking what the effects of their actions are going to be on the future. They know that we must grow food for ourselves to survive, and that without healthy soil nothing survives. There is no sacrificing the means for the ends in farming, or in life on Earth. We cannot pollute and over work the land for a super crop now and live healthily ever after. Some of the methods organic farmers use are crop rotation, compost and other natural fertilizers, companion planting, and cover cropping to create and maintain nutrient rich soil.
The interdependency of life is what makes it work. For example, Monarch caterpillars only eat milkweed, and the adults pollinate the plants they drink nectar from. Farmers need insects to pollinate the crops. Organic farmers use natural pest and disease control methods which demand that the farmer be watchful, creative and informed. The web of life on a farm has wondrous intricacies and a farmer must pay attention to as many of them as she or he can.
You might see hole or two on your collard leaf where a cabbage worm passed through, or get a squash with a deer nibble taken out of it now and again, but you’ll know you are safe from toxins and carcinogens, that your vegetables are packed with all the nutrients healthy soil has to offer, and that the person growing your food is paying attention to whether anyone is going to be able to grow food there in 25 or 50 years. Overall we find that our CSA members are continually amazed by the vibrant quality and flavor in our vegetables - they’re gorgeous to look at and taste amazing!
A Note on Heirloom varieties:
One way that organic farmers have found to work with the Earth is to preserve the natural diversity of plants by preserving and growing heirloom varieties. In the past century the number of varieties of vegetables produced has diminished. It is common knowledge that biological diversity is the key to sustained life but conventional farming ignores that.
This goes back to that issue of easy packing and handling on a massive scale. It has gotten so bad that we think tomatoes look like one certain round, squat, evenly red variety pictured on the sides of trucks, boxes and sauce cans every where. In fact, there are more varieties of tomato than you can count on fingers and toes (as a start). There are golden yellow pear shaped tomatoes, small round striped tomatoes, deep dark purple tomatoes, tomatoes that are green when they are ripe…… Some tomatoes resist drought better than others, some come on faster in the Spring, some produce later, some plants are tall and spindly and others are thick and study, some do better in wetter summers. Some are more susceptible to certain fungi or diseases than others, or to certain insects……and that’s just tomatoes! It obviously makes sense to plant a variety of tomatoes, and other crops - it makes it more likely that we are going to eat well in any given year! And the taste testing is superb!
You have an exciting year of taste testing a wide variety of greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and more ahead of you!
What is biodynamic farming?
Biodynamic agriculture is a holistic method of farming which emphasizes sensitivity to subtle processes in Nature, with the goal of producing food that truly nourishes the body and spirit. While the fundamental principles of present day organic farming (the exclusion of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers in crop production) are included in biodynamic agriculture, its breadth and depth exceed that of organic farming. A biodynamic farm is understood to be a living, breathing organism, so farming practices strive to balance the overall health of the farm, in order to produce the very highest quality food. Farmers generate fertility from within the farm, in the form of composted manures and cover crops, rather than purchasing inputs from off the farm. A number of special herbal preparations are used in homeopathic doses, some as additions to These preparations have harmonizing influences on soil, plant and animal health on the farm. Ultimately, the food produced in this way has a vitality that supports human health and development in an un-paralleled way.
Biodynamic farming began as “biological-dynamic” farming in Europe in the 1920s. It was spurred by a group of farmers who perceived a widespread and marked decline in animal health and soil fertility, beginning with the advent of man-made fertilizers. They sought the advice of Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), the prolific thinker, lecturer and writer who also developed Waldorf Education, Anthroposophy, anthroposophic medicine, and various art, architecture and movement forms, among other disciplines. Steiner gave a series of lectures, collectively know as the “Agriculture Course,” which laid the foundation of biodynamic farming and the modern organic farming movement.
Steiner was a spiritual scientist. He approached all things with a scientific mind and with the perspective that there is more than meets the human eye - forces that we can only see, know and hear with an acutely open and disciplined mind. There seems to be a lot of mystical hodge-podge swirling around biodynamic farming to people who don’t know much about it, and even some people who do. The practices range from the straight forward – such as the specifics of mixing compost - to the more esoteric - burying cow horns packed with a manure mixture for use as a homeopathic spray promoting soil health. The Full Plate farmers who use biodynamic methods do so because they find that the methods produce the results they want to see on their farms, and because they are drawn to the nourishment that they, as farmers, get by participating in their farm at the level that farming biodynamically demands.
To develop a farm in the image of a self-contained individuality, all the forms of life - animal, vegetable, mineral, fungal - are needed to be present to create a whole. The presence of both animals and crops is an essential feature of biodynamic agriculture. Composted animal manures enliven soils in a way purchased inputs cannot. Remembrance Farm shares land with a goat farmer and Three Swallows Farm raises cows, chickens and turkeys because animals are integral to life and thus to the farm. Animal products from these operations are made available to Full Plate members.
There is much more to the biodynamic practice than be explained here, and as each farm is an individual organism, they must be learned individually. Be assured that the produce you eat from our farms will be of the highest quality and you can trust that the land and all that live on it are being respectfully cared for. We look forward to seeing you on the farms, and hope you will join us when we invite you to participate in farm activities.
For more information on biodynamic agriculture visit: