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Community Supported Agriculture Program Takes Root - Vindicator

Mahoning Valley residents have a new opportunity this year to invest in local agriculture and receive, in return, a weekly share of fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables throughout the growing season.

The community supported agriculture program, known as the Iron Roots CSA, is being launched by the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp., which operates the Iron Roots Urban Farm, 820 Canfield Road.

“We wanted to make our farm more sustainable, and we’d been spending a lot of time and labor to go around to a number of farmers’ markets,” but sales there are unpredictable, and unsold produce has to be composted or donated, said Liberty Merrill, YNDC’s land reuse director, explaining part of the rationale for forming the CSA.

“In a CSA system, everything’s actually pre-sold, and people are investing in the farm,” she added.

“The idea is that you are investing in, and being a part of, our local agriculture system,” Merrill said. “It’s a commitment to eating healthy.”

The new CSA was launched by YNDC, in part, because of last year’s closing of another CSA, known as GROW Youngstown, which had as many as 150 members, she added.

“We wanted to make sure to serve their [former] customers,” Merrill added.

Ian Beniston, YNDC executive director, said the organization decided to start the CSA “as another avenue to offer fresh, locally-grown produce right here at our farm to the community and to have an additional sustainable revenue source for the farm.”

The CSA “makes us less reliant on grant funding,” he added.

“You’re getting a great value in the amount of produce that you’ll buy, but you’re also contributing to the support of the Iron Roots Urban Farm and the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp. and our mission, not only to provide healthy food across the city, but to stabilize and revitalize neighborhoods,” Beniston said of CSA membership.

CSA members are motivated by their desire to receive fresh produce, support local agriculture and know where their food is coming from, Merrill said, noting that all of the money exchanged in the program stays local.

The CSA will provide a weekly share of fresh vegetables and fruit to subscribers for 20 weeks beginning in mid-June.

The Iron Roots CSA’s nonrefundable share price is $650 for the season, which must be paid in full by June 13.

A discounted fee of $600 is available for those who pay in full by Friday.

Nonrefundable payment in full in advance “allows us to plan for our season up front,” in terms of acquiring supplies and staffing the farm, Merrill explained.

For information or to sign up, call 330-480-0423, Ext. 2.

In a CSA, farmers don’t have to wait until crops are harvested to generate revenue.

Members assume risks concerning crop yield and quality, but Merrill said those risks will be reduced in the Iron Roots CSA because it will buy produce from other local growers.

Members may pick up their produce shares at the Idora Neighborhood Farmers’ Market, Warren Farmers’ Market or Catullo Prime Meats in Boardman.

Shares are intended to be sufficient to supply a family of four, Merrill said.

A limited number of half shares may also be purchased for $325, with half-share purchasers getting their produce every other week, she added.

In June, share boxes will contain early-season items, such as garlic, greens, strawberries, and radishes. In July and August, they’ll contain tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and green beans. Later in the growing season, watermelons, apples and squashes will be provided.

The CSA program will support the Iron Roots Urban Farm and its mission to grow fresh produce, support farmers’ markets and promote farming and gardening on vacant land throughout the city, YNDC says.

“I like to support the community and local produce farming,” said Vera Franken, of Austintown, who said she will join the Iron Roots CSA.

“It also gives me a commitment,” to eating fresh vegetables regularly at home, said Franken, who has regularly bought produce grown at the Iron Roots Urban Farm.

“I can go to the Iron Roots Farm and order my arugula, and I have a hard time finding arugula in any local grocery store. That is one of the main reasons I started shopping there because they had some of the produce that other places did not,” she added.

The CSA needs about 120 members to break even financially, Merrill said.

Members will be invited to events, such as potluck dinners, volunteer work days and cooking demonstrations at Iron Roots, and will receive recipe cards and a weekly newsletter, Merrill said.

To read the full story from the Vindicator, click here.