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CSU students participate in Community Supported Agriculture

Downtown "Old Town" Fort Collins

Downtown “Old Town” Fort Collins (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Eating healthy and buying local isn’t just for 30-year-old yuppies anymore.

Community Supported Agriculture is the US Department of Agriculture lingo for a fresh food delivery service in which customers pay in advance for a set amount of deliveries to their home or a convenient pick-up spot. By investing in the season’s production, a customer is agreeing to share the risks and the oh-so-tasty rewards of the garden.

There are currently more than twenty CSAs in the Fort Collins area offering a wide array of products.

“The CSA community is strong in Fort Collins. While one went (out of business) last year, two started,” said Rosemarie Russo, the director of sustainability for the City of Fort Collins.

Lately, more CSU students have been participating in the services, according to many CSA managers.

“We’ve got about 20 CSU students picking up eggs from us. A few years ago there were none,” said Aaron Rice of Jodar Farms.

The biggest hurdle for students is often the hefty up-front cost, which can be more than $300. Of a handful of students interviewed, most explained that while they would like to be a CSA member, they rarely have more than $500 in their checking accounts at one time.

“I’d love to (join a CSA), but I have to pay rent,” said Stephanie Kessinger, a horticulture major.

While the initial cost is substantial, it is important to consider the cost over the course of the season.

“CSAs, by and large, are a lot less expensive per pound of produce received than the grocery store – and food in this country is too inexpensive as it is. Beer, on the other hand, seems to demand a premium especially from students – and yet I hear no grumbling about that,” said Frank Stonaker, a professor in the horticulture department.

Some CSAs offer discounted work-shares for customers willing to spend a certain number of hours in the garden. It is described as a great way to experience what it’s like to grow your own food while getting vegetables for a reduced price.

With the number of CSAs increasing, farmers are experimenting with new business plans to entice customers.

Justin Norton, CSU student and owner of Donoma Farms, is working to create his own niche in the Fort Collins CSA market by focusing on supplying vegetables through the lean winter months. This year, he launched a 15-week winter CSA that offered 16 ounces of salad greens each week, all grown in greenhouses and raised beds in his backyard. The service ran from December through March and cost only $55 for CSU students.

“It was a good value and a good product. Normally, it was a good mix (of different greens),” said Gary Gross, a horticulture major.

Trying to grow vegetables when the temperatures were near freezing offered its own set of challenges.

“The issue you actually have is picking when there’s snow on the ground,” Norton said of trying not to damage his plants while harvesting each week’s delivery.

Norton, a soil science senior, College of Agriculture employee and expecting father, has a lot on his plate at the moment. He recently acquired 80 acres of undeveloped farmland, which needs a lot of work before he can begin planning for next winter’s CSA. While it’s all a bit daunting, Norton is excited to expand his role in the Fort Collins agricultural community.

“I want to be the winter greens guy,” Norton said.

Gross, who picked up his greens each week in the basement of the Plant Sciences building, is a major proponent of the CSA system, but he agrees that it’s necessary to shop around for the right one.

“It takes a little more prep work than going to the grocery store, but it ends up being more convenient,” Gross said.

While Gross has spent time working in large-scale vegetable production, he believes CSAs and Farmer’s Markets are important parts of agriculture.

“I think there will always be a role for large (vegetable) providers, but CSAs are a great model for local agriculture. You are keeping the money in the community, which doesn’t happen when you shop at the grocery store,” Gross said.

To Russo, supporting CSAs is an important part of making municipal operations greener.

“The city as a business has 10 goals. We are working to re-evaluate these goals and including a local food goal,” Russo said.

Her office provides resources — including a CSA directory and lists of restaurants that buy from local — to make it easy for residents find and support their local food system.

The summer delivery season is just around the corner, so students are encouraged to act fast.

Collegian Writer Isabella Heepke can be reached at news@collegian.com. 

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