Jersey City is blessed with several farmers’ markets that offer New Jersey-grown vegetables, fruit, dairy products, and meat to customers throughout the summer and early fall months. As bountiful as these markets are, their hours and locations are not convenient for everybody, and the selection of food might not always be what a customer wants.
For customers looking for other options, a subscription-based Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) group might fit the bill. The downtown area has been home to the Downtown Harvest CSA, which has operated in that neighborhood for 12 years. Interest in this CSA has been so extensive that membership typically shuts down in the spring, leaving many residents who are interested in joining a CSA out in the cold.
‘Part of the idea of a CSA is that it builds communities as much as it supports farmers and family-owned farms.’ – Katie Sheehan
“We actually started last year. But it was really small,” said Katie Sheehan, one of the group’s core organizers. “We just had a few people. This is the year we really got started.”
The group currently has 33 members.
What’s a CSA anyway?
CSAs will usually form a relationship with one or two small local farms. The CSA then allows members of the community to buy “shares,” or memberships, which go towards buying produce and other items from the partner farms. The model gives people who might not otherwise get farm fresh goods a new food option, and gives small farms a new customer base. Members are generally “locked” into the CSA for the season and each week receive a large grocery bag of whatever the farm has in season.
The Massachusetts-based Indian Line Farm and the Temple-Wilton Community Farm in New Hampshire were instrumental in developing the CSA concept in the U.S. in the 1980s.
The Journal Square group has formed its partnership with Andover, N.J.-based farmer Sergio Nolasco, the owner of Nolasco’s Farm.
“We decided to go with Nolasco’s Farm because he and his wife already have experience in the farmers’ market community in New York and with the New Farmer Development Project that’s part of Grow NYC,” said Sheehan. “So this is work he’s doing already. This is his first time working in Hudson County. But since his farm is based in New Jersey he was pretty eager to work with a CSA in his own state.”
Each Wednesday food is delivered from Nolasco’s Farm to the Hudson Pride Connections Center at 32 Jones St., about three blocks from the Journal Square transit station.
Roots in the community
Membership for this season costs $455 for a full share and in recent weeks members have received bok choy, spring onions, garlic, red leaf lettuce, basil, cilantro, lemongrass, summer squash, spring onions, basil, epazote, sunflower sprouts, lettuce, and squash blossoms.
While half shares aren’t available, the group is willing to pair up subscribers who pay 227.50 each and then split the vegetables delivered. The group has also collected money that can assist low-income residents afford the membership fee.
The season began the first week of June and will continue through Oct. 29.
Each member is required to give at least six hours of volunteer during the season.
“Part of the idea of a CSA is that it builds communities as much as it supports farmers and family-owned farms,” said Sheehan. “The volunteer requirement is something that most CSAs have. Obviously this is an all-volunteer effort. There is no staff. So we need volunteers to bag shares, organize food that comes in from the farm, distribute to members when they come to pick up their food. So, there is practical need for volunteers. But other CSAs have shown that when neighbors get to know each other through a CSA they can come together on other issues in the community layer on. So, this is a part of community-building.”
Interestingly, despite the group’s official name – Journal Square CSA – the group’s four core members live in the Jersey City Heights, in addition to the JSQ.
“We want to pace ourselves so we don’t grow too quickly,” said Sheehan. “But at the same time, we haven’t quite reached the point where we’re turning people away. So, yes we do have members who live in the Heights, and we would welcome members from other neighborhoods who share our goals and values to come check us out.”
To learn more about the Journal Square CSA, visit http://journalsquarecsa.weebly.com/index.html.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.