Farmers and Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County make Local Foods Affordable

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Tompkins Weekly 07/22/2013

By  Sharon Tregaskis

It’s hard to beat the value of Community Supported Agriculture. In Tompkins County, the weekly cost works out to $20–$25 for an array of fresh-from-the-farm fruit and veggies, with distribution options on nearly every day of the week, on farms and in town.This time of year, the bounty includes yellow summer squash, green beans, golden beets, red cabbage, cucumbers, eggplant, tomatillos, onions, tomatoes and sweet peppers in every hue of the rainbow, garlic, salad fixings, and of course the fresh herbs that make every bite a burst of flavor: cilantro, dill, Italian and Thai basil, parsley, and more. Coming soon: sweet corn, new potatoes, and carrots.

CSA emerged as a solution for farmers who need a cash infusion in early spring, when start-up costs are high and there’s little other income. In effect, they presell the summer’s harvest, front-loading marketing and bookkeeping during the relatively quiet months that precede the growing season. When CSA members write a check in March to cover the full cost of the veggies they’ll eat from May through November, they’re forwarding an advance upwards of $500. For many families living paycheck to paycheck, that kind of investment isn’t even on the table.

Seven years ago, a trio of CSA farmers banded together to form Healthy Food for All, a consortium that makes half-price shares available to families with limited incomes. Today, HFFA comprises a partnership of nine farms with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County (CCE-Tompkins) and provides CSA memberships for 120 households who would otherwise be at risk of food insecurity – that’s close to 400 adults and children.

In addition to lower-cost memberships for income-eligible individuals and families, the program offers an array of payment options, including monthly, pro-rated fees and a partnership with Greenstar Co-op to process payments from HFFA members using their Electronic Benefits Transfer cards (aka Food Stamps). Members also have access to free, federally funded cooking and nutrition classes at CCE-Tompkins. New this year, the Full Plate Farm Collective organized the “Cooking out of the (CSA) Box,” a series of classes taught by area chefs with participation open to the entire community for a fee and free to HFFA members.
Funding for HFFA comes from an array of sources, including private donations from individuals and businesses, as well as proceeds from sales of the forthcoming Moosewood Restaurant Favorites, and grants from the Park Foundation, Share our Strength’s Ithaca Taste of the Nation, and United Way of Tompkins County.

Perhaps the most visible—and delicious—fundraiser for the program is Healthy Food for All’s series of on-farm harvest events. Hosted every summer through fall on member farms, the gatherings bring together diners for a tour led by their farmer hosts, followed by an elegant dining experience amidst the fields in which their meal was grown. Each event features the finest ingredients donated by farmers and artisan producers, a unique menu prepared by local chefs expert in the culinary delights of seasonal dining, and libations donated by vintners and brewers whose pairings complement the plate.

This year’s series launched with a family-friendly brunch in June, featuring produce from Kestrel Perch Berry Farm in a menu prepared by Moosewood’s Chef Kelly. White tablecloth evening events kick off on August 11 at Remembrance Farm in Trumansburg, with catering by the Carriage House Café’s chef Jim Chambers, accompanied by wines from Damiani Wine Cellars, and live music by the Lynn Wiles Jazz Project. With a stuffed cucumber cup appetizer, cold beet soup, heirloom tomato and peach-braised rabbit (as well as a vegan-friendly entrée), and seasonal stone fruit dessert, the menu highlights the height of summer’s flavors.

Early Morning Farm hosts diners in Genoa on September 22, with a menu crafted by The Aurora Inn, wines by Bet the Farm, and Sundown Sally’s Americana-FolkCountry tunes. On October 27, Stick and Stone in Ithaca hosts chefs from Red Newt Bistro and the Crooked Carrot Community Supported Kitchen offering a menu for vegetarians and omnivores, alike, with Red Newt wines. The season wraps up on November 3 with a reception at West Haven Farm and dinner in EcoVillage’s Common House in Ithaca featuring a menu of tapas by Just a Taste. On tap: suds from the Bandwagon Brew Pub and wine from Cayuga Lake’s King Ferry Winery / Treleaven.

Half-price CSA shares through HFFA are still available. For more information and an application, visit or contact Cooperative Extension 607-272-2292.

For harvest event information and reservations, please visit or contact 607-342-8845 / Sign up for HFFA’s mailing list or visit HFFA’s Facebook page to receive fun farm and food event announcements, menus and more.

Sharon Tregaskis is a co-owner of Tree Gate Farm, which joined HFFA in 2012.

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