Harvesting Alaska: CSAs offer fresh, healthy produce and convenience
Refrigerators are full for about 90 families who buy from Arctic Organics farm in Palmer. For these folks, summer is officially here.
“This is what tells me that summer starts, it doesn’t matter what temperature it is, or what the sky is like, this is the beginning of summer,” says Peg Faithful, who’s been a customer for about 20 years.
Sarah Bean, owner of Arctic Organics, and her son, Fabian, drive the 45 miles from Palmer to Anchorage on Wednesdays to a drop off location in the South Addition. Last week kicked off the first delivery of their 28th season.
This vegetable delivery system is called a CSA, short for Community Supported Agriculture. The Alaska Community Agriculture Association calls it a partnership between a local farm and “shareholder consumers.” There are various types of share agreements — such as produce, eggs or dairy — and levels of involvement. Each arrangement is unique in length of season, foods offered, price and flexibility.
Bean describes it as a system of growing produce and having community members commit to that farm to get their produce for them for the whole summer. It’s also about the vegetables being fresh.
“The last of this was picked, you know, less than three hours ago,” she said.
Carol Sturgulewski has been a customer for three years. She said she doesn’t have the time to garden anymore, so the CSA is a perfect solution and having a refrigerator full of Bean’s produce changes the way she eats.
“I don’t want to waste it, so I eat it,” Sturgulewski said. “So I eat better in the summertime.”
Most of what Bean offers won’t be found in your typical grocery store. Greens like mizuna — a mild, Asian mustard green — which can be used in salads.
Sturgulewski likes to have fun with the different varieties of greens Arctic Organics offers.
“I go home with it and say, ‘Oh I’ve got this and this and this, let’s play and what can I make with this stuff,'” she said.
And she likes the convenience. She said the deliveries aren’t out of her way and it’s worthwhile.
It’s not just for customer convenience. Bean says deliveries complement the line of work she’s in. Instead of having every customer drive out to the valley, increasing the farm’s carbon footprint, Bean sees it differently.
“We care a lot about cutting back on rampant consumption of fossil fuels,” Bean said, adding that it’s far more efficient for them to bring it in.
While farmers like CSA programs because they can provide for people and do the work they love, there are plenty advantages for consumers. Anchorage resident Corey Brause says he’s a customer because of the taste, quality, freshness and the local benefits.
“The farmer is your friend really,” Brause said. “I mean, they’re putting it all on the line for us, for the consumer, and so long as you look at it as a symbiotic relationship, then it’s a win-win.”
Customers like Brause are what make these community arrangements work for farmers like Bean.
“We, of course, just wanted to run a farm, and this was just a nice way to build a real dedicated clientele and not have to worry about whether we grow the right amount of anything,” says Bean.
A set amount of produce goes to her customers every week and what’s leftover is sold at the Anchorage Farmers Market at 15th Avenue and Cordova Street on Saturdays.
For longtime customer Faithful, it’s a wonderful tradition.
“It’s good, it’s fresh, it’s local,” Faithful said. “You just have total confidence in how it was grown, so it just doesn’t get any better than this.”
Other Southcentral farms with CSAs include Talkeetna Grown, Spring Creek Farm, and Sun Circle Farm. To find a CSA farm near you, check out this list from Alaska Community Agriculture Association.
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