Food Bank of Northeastern NY and Patroon Farm launch CSA

KNOX — A farm on Ketcham Road that provides food for the hungry is continuing to grow.   

In 1997, Pauline Williman put her family’s farm in a land trust — the Patroon Land Foundation.  From 2001 to 2005, she and her brother, William Salisbury, operated the farm and harvested produce for the hungry.  And, in 2006, the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York began managing the farm. 

This summer marks another change as the farm and food bank, in addition to providing food for the hungry, will also grow produce for the community through community-supported agriculture.

A CSA is a partnership between a farm and a community of supporters.  Members support the farm by buying shares, and pick up produce each week.  The food bank is now accepting applications.

There are no organizations to represent CSAs, but 133 are listed on the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York’s website.  And, according to the Just Food website, there are over 50 CSAs in metropolitan New York City. 

“We are growing produce for the regional food bank so that we can feed hungry people, but the purpose of the CSA is that we can become self-sustaining so that there’s money there to keep the farm running for years to come,” said Linda Comstock, the food bank’s director of major gifts and special projects. 

“This has been our goal since we started managing the farm in 2006,” she said.  “We knew that we had to, at some point, make the farm self-sustaining so that we weren’t using regional food bank money to operate the farm.”

She said, “Our goal was to start it in 2009, but we’ve done so well with the land and with community in-kind services that we’ve been able to start it in 2008.”

One expensive upgrade, through in-kind services, was the installation of over $25,000 in drainage tiles, Comstock said. 

“Awesome” progress

“It’s done awesome,” Comstock said of the farm.  “Last year, we harvested 96,359 pounds of produce, which is three times more than what we did the year before.  We only started it in 2006.” 

With a goal to harvest 100,000 pounds for the food bank this year and the addition of the CSA, the food bank recently bought a new tractor, and is looking to add another acre to its operation.  And it will be hiring three seasonal employees to work on the farm from May through October. 

During the harvest season, which runs from early July through mid-October, members will pick up their shares — designed to feed a family of three to four — at the Patroom Farm in Knox or at the food bank in Latham on Thursdays between 3 and 6:30 p.m.  Shares that are not claimed will be donated to the food bank. 

Comstock said people are signing up for the CSA for two reasons: because of the mission of the farm — to help feed hungry people — and because people want locally-grown produce.  And, she said, the cost of about $23 a week is less expensive than market prices. 

In the early season, the CSA will grow lettuce, spinach, beets, broccoli, scallions, and swiss chard.  Summer squash, zucchini, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cabbage, sweet corn, onions, and muskmelons will be grown in midseason.  And broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, potatoes, carrots, turnips, and winter squash will be harvested in the late season.

Members of the CSA will also be able to pick their own string beans, peas, cherry tomatoes, and herbs.

The food bank is now holding a membership drive.  Shares cost $400, and additional shares bought within a family will be discounted 10 percent. 

“We’re only accepting 50 for this year just to make sure we run it smoothly, and, right now, we’re at 21,” said Comstock.  Next year, she said, membership will increase to 150 and will be up to 600 by 2013. 

“That’s our goal,” Comstock said. 

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