Community-supported agriculture takes root
Where does your fresh produce come from? How was it raised? By whom? And is it really “fresh”? Community-supported agriculture (CSA) addresses all these concerns.
Food produced at a local CSA farm is grown by farmers who live locally. They are able to show their members where and how the food is raised. The food produced locally does not have to travel hundreds of miles or sit in warehouses. Lettuce Heads Aquaponics and Farm of Brighton Township fills this role.
Lettuce Heads Aquaponics and Farm is in its fourth growing season. The farm is operated by Kevin, Ken, Kurk, and Nick Ziegler, fourth- and fifth-generation farmers. The family has been in its current location for 100 years.
“The folks who choose us like the freshness,” said Nick Ziegler, one of the four family partners. “The CSA members who are coming today are getting products that haven’t even been picked yet. Peak freshness is important to them. The product quality is very good. It looks and tastes good. People appreciate how we treat the plants. It really is a lifestyle choice.”
Kevin Ziegler added, "People like knowing the farmers who raise their food, and they like knowing how it’s raised. They trust us. A lot of why people come here is because of Nick and Kurk."
In 2014, during a cold year, the family built their hydroponic system, working through the learning curve together.
“This is about putting another generation on the farm and creating other avenues of revenue,” Nick said. “Plus, we are looking for our passion. Our fathers are traditionally grain and hog farmers. Kurk and I wanted to come back to the farm with our own identities, and that manifested in raising hydroponic vegetables for our community.”
The close relationship between the producers and consumers is an obvious benefit to the members purchasing shares of the CSA. But the farms benefit as well. When a member buys a share before the growing season, the farm has money to invest in equipment and supplies needed to start growing.
"The way a CSA works is members pay up front,” Kurk said. “When members subscribe, it gives us money to order seeds and buy supplies. We don’t have the money in the bank to buy all these seeds, so without CSA, we would have to get an operating loan. In the winter when our product lineup is narrower, it still allows us to sell fresh produce to the community.”
As CSA shareholders, members are responsible for some of the farm’s success. Matt Klingman of Amherst has supported Lettuce Heads Farm since it began in 2014.
“I like knowing where my produce comes from, and I like supporting local farmers,” said Klingman. “I’m more about supporting small businesses in my community. I like knowing that I’m helping support this family and their pursuit of sustainable agriculture.”