Reed Magazine February 2005
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urban growth

Cabbage. Carrots. Cauliflower. Chard.

The triffids have come and the power has failed and the supermarkets are gone . . . who among us would not starve? Face it–the odd herb box or tomato plant aside, most of us could not be farther removed from our food sources. Especially city folk–the weekend farmers' market is about as close as we ever get to the fruited plain. Most of us wouldn't know an allium from our brassica.

But even here in the city, Old MacDonald– or in this case Young Masterson–has a farm. The buzzwords are "community-supported agriculture" (CSA), and the concept is often traced back to Japan in the '60s, where a group of women persuaded local populations to buy from local farms and to share some of the financial uncertainties of farming. The women dubbed this new kind of agriculture teikei, which means "putting the farmer's face on food."

pumpkins imageModern CSA takes many forms. In the relatively unusual example of 47th Avenue Farm, it means sustainable organic-centered farming on behalf of some 80 harvest shareholders (a share feeds four or five people on average). The shareholders pay $600 to $800 to the farm at the start of the summer and winter growing seasons. Then once a week in summer, twice a month in winter, they share in the bounty of Masterson's urban-ish acres: usually around a dozen different vegetables, greens, and herbs. There are also shares for eggs and goat cheese. On Tuesday evenings the cars and bikes bump down the avenue to pick up their shares, and Masterson's house becomes home for her extended farm family. Kids chase the chickens while this impromptu community pores over potatoes, emotes about eggplant, grieves over garlic gone bad, decides this week's kale kills. Masterson dispenses tips, science, recipes, and veggie wisdom along with the shares.

Shareholders also own a piece of the risks: weather, pests, disease–the weed seeds and the root maggots and the cold snaps. In this way, Masterson is pre-paid, at least somewhat shielded from the crop-failure losses that can plague more traditional farms. But that doesn't mean there ain't a bushel-basket full of ways to lose money.

"When I started this," Masterson says, "I thought all I had to do was learn how to grow these vegetables. When I get good at that, I told myself, I'll have it nailed. Wrong! The hardest thing to grow is profitability. That's the biggest hurdle."

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Reed Magazine February