By Kristy Alpert
A neighborhood farm co-op — almost as trendy as the farmers market — could save you money, and allow you to have guaranteed fresh and local produce.
As John Kilburn, Comeback Creek Farm owner, looks out over his sprawling 25-acre farm in Pittsburgh, Texas, he can’t help but smile knowing he’s helping communities grow to love eating healthfully and locally with his Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and farm cooperative (co-op) programs.
With this developing movement, farms are starting to see record growth of neighborhood farm co-op members.
A farm co-op is a system that allows consumers to purchase straight from the source for fresh and seasonal produce, from blueberries to butternut squash. They mainly consist of a group of friends or neighbors getting together to buy a share of a farm, and, in return, each member gets a consistent supply of fruits, vegetables, and herbs directly from the source.
“A co-op also allows a group of individuals to buy in bulk from one or more farms in order to help keep the costs down, and then they can divide the purchases among the members,” Kilburn adds. “The idea is that when buying in bulk, you can get a better price.”
“The benefits of the CSA [or co-op] to the consumer are that you get a consistent supply of locally grown produce from a source you trust,” explains Kilburn, who’s entering his second year of operating the successful program. “You will experience more variety because you will be eating seasonally. For the farmer, it provides a market for crops, even during the months when most farmers markets are closed, thus enabling the farmer to earn an income year-round.”
Not only does joining a co-op provide delicious seasonal produce while supporting local farms, it’s also a great way to create community in your neighborhood. By taking turns with your neighbors to purchase fresh produce directly from the grower, you’ll be sharing an experience that can transform next door neighbors into lifelong friends.
3 steps to organizing a neighborhood co-op:
- Do your research
Sites like localharvest.org and coopdirectory.org offer lists of local co-ops by state and sometimes by produce selection. Kilburn suggests calling the farm directly, visiting, or even talking with members from a previous season to make sure you’re choosing the right farm. Remember, spots sell out fast, so search quickly!
- Gather some members
After talking with the farmer, discuss logistics with interested neighbors via your neighborhood social networking site or at an in-home meeting. Do they want to swap weeks? Would everyone prefer meeting up and dividing the goods by pounds?
- Enjoy the harvest
One of the main perks of joining a co-op is being a part of the farming process; weather delays and all. Most co-op members notice the change in attitude with weather forecasts, from enjoying the cool rains to being thankful for the extra sunshine to make their tomatoes extra ripe! (Tip: Receive more produce than expected in a given week? Throw a neighborhood harvest party or seasonal shindig to share the bounty!)