CSA: a partnership between farmer & consumer

LACONIA — Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a partnership between the farmer and consumer that provides the first with the means to plant the seeds, raise the crops and harvest the bounty and the second with the opportunity to enjoy fresh food, locally grown, purchased directly from its producer.

The consumer partners with the farmer before the growing season begins by purchasing a share of the forthcoming harvest. The farmer applies the proceeds from these subscriptions to meeting the costs of sowing, growing and harvesting the crop and in return provides the subscriber with a constant supply of foodstuffs throughout the season. Traditionally farms primarily provided fruits and vegetables as they came into season, but now many offer eggs and meat — chicken, beef and pork — as well as products like maple syrup, honey, and jams.

Aaron Lichtenberg, a small grower at Winnipesaukee Woods Farm in Alton, described the business model as one of "shared risk and shared responsibility for producing the food we eat."

The New Hampshire Department of Agriculture lists half-a-dozen farms with CSA programs in Belknap County. Stretching from one end of the county to the other, he six, which all have websites with information about the pricing, terms and operation of their CSA programs, are: Surowiec Farm in Sanbornton, Picnic Rock Farms in Meredith, Beans & Greens Farmstand in Gilford, Still Seeking Farm in Gilmanton, Sticks & Stones Farm in Barnstead, and Winnipesaukee Woods Farm in Alton.

Most operate their CSA programs during the growing season between June and September or October, though Beans & Greens offers a winter program, assuring subscribers preference over the restaurant trade if supplies are short. Programs vary in price and structure.. Beans & Greens specifies a minimum account of $250 with a 10 percent bonus to those who subscribe by May 3. Some farms price shares for individuals, couples and families while some offer half and full shares for the season, with prices for the season ranging between approximately $300 and $550.

Likewise, different farms prescribe different arrangements for collecting the produce. Some package their customers' orders for collection on specific days. Others have pick-up locations, usually at a farmstand or farmer's markets. And still at others subscribers select their produce at the farm and the farmer debits their account.

Ward Bird of Picnic Rock Farm in Meredith said that the contribution of the some 60 subscribers is "very important to the operation of farm It helps to get the ball rolling early in the season." He said that he seeks to engage the subscribers in the life of the farm. "We strongly believe that teaching is a big part of this," he said, explaining that subscribers are told when to expect produce to ripen and to understand the effects of weather and even invited to share in chores like weeding and picking. "it's not a working thing," he remarked, "but a learning experience."

Michelle Descoteaux of Still Seeking Farm said that after three years the CSA accounts for about a quarter of total sales, but she and her husband Keith hope to expand it to represent all sales. "We like to pick fresh and give people what they want when they want it," she said, "not have produce wilting on a farmstand or in an outdoor market all day."

Barbara Comtois, who with her husband Guy, owns Sticks and Stones Farm, a hydroponic operation in Barnstead, said that subscriptions represent a large share of sales. She explained that by growing hydroponically they can produce on five acres what would require between 10 and 20 acres of soil with relatively little labor, while materials and equipment represent a correspondingly greater share of costs. Subscriptions, she said, defray a significant share those operating costs.

On the other hand Katie Surowiec of Surowiec Farm said that she has limited the CSA program to about 100 members, "It's all about what you can handle," she explained, "and I can manage about 100." She said the program has been very popular, with nine of 10 members renewing their subscriptions, and "very important in the spring when we really need the cash flow." However, she said that "we're not putting all our eggs in one basket" and the farmstand and two farmer's markets generate the majority of sales.

Lichtenberg observed that CSA represents a flexible business model that reduces the inherent risks of farming to small growers while providing consumers the opportunity to enjoy foods produced by their neighbors and served at the peak of their seasons. "We can learn to eat seasonally," he remarked, "like our grandparents did."

Locally grown: Farmers' markets open for summer season (802)

LACONIA — Farmers' Markets in the Lakes Region are filled with the latest in-season vegetables and fruits in a growing season which is picking up steam after a slow start due to a long, cold winter.
Keith Descoteaux of Still Seeking Farm of Gilmanton was offering samples of his fresh strawberries to shoppers at the Laconia Main Street Outdoor Marketplace Thursday afternoon., where he was also selling reduced sugar jams which he says enable people to actually taste the fruit, all local and organic, as well as granola.
Descoteaux and his wife, Michelle, have been farming in Gilmanton since 2005 and he says that they tried for years to come up with the right kind of formula for a the soil at their farm and finally hit the jackpot when hey followed the advice of Dan Kittredge of the ''Real Food Campaign'' and started incorporating boron, lime, blood meal and other trace minerals which put them on the path to spectacular yields.
They also fill in the seasonal gap by making maple syrup starting in late winter and making maple syrup, an operation which has grown from 75 to over 800 taps.
Michelle is the director of The Laconia Farmers' Market, now in its 42nd year and which is the longest running farm market in New Hampshire. It is open on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to noon in the parking lot on Beacon Street East in front of City Hall.
The market features a rotating lineup of 12 to 15 vendors, offering farm-fresh, local and organically produced food and artisan crafts, including tomatoes, herbs, greens, garlic, squash, beans, strawberries, meats, eggs, dairy, cheese, breads, pastries, granola, maple syrup, jams, jellies, freshly roasted coffee, hand-spun yarns, body care products, natural candles, and more.
The market offers EBT/SNAP benefits and will match all EBT purchases, with up to $10 free to spend on produce.
Descoteaux is encouraging customers to sign up for FarmFan, a new app that alerts customers to product availability, weather alerts, and rewards and prizes. To become a FarmFan, visit www.laconiafarmersmarket.com and sign up the free app.
"Using FarmFan helps us to better connect with customers and reward them for repeat business. Customers who join the free FarmFan program will get 'What's Fresh' alerts by text message right before the market opens, to let them know what's available at the market, including special offers from vendors. We love our market customers and wanted a better way to keep in touch with them about the wonderful products that our vendors sell. We are excited to reward our frequent shoppers and call them FarmFans," said Descoteaux.
Also taking part in Thursday's Laconia Main Street Outdoor Marketplace, which is open Thursdays from 3-6 p.m., was Aaron Lichtenberg of Winnipesaukee Woods Farm, which raises most of its vegetables on land it leases at the Rogers Farm in Gilford.
He says that Winnipesaukee Woods is primarily a Community Supported Agriculture farm, producing mixed vegetables and pasture raised eggs.
He was offering spinach, swiss chard, scallions and garlic scapes at the Laconia venue and says that he and his wife, Liz, a teacher at Alton Central School, also will take part in the Gilford Farmer's Market, which is new this year. Located at the historic Benjamin Rowe House on Belknap Mountain Road, the market will be open on Saturdays from 9 a.m. until noon, from June through September.
It is run by the Thompson-Ames Historical Society which is raising funds to match an LCHIP grant for exterior renovation of the Rowe House and has 15 to 20 vendors according to Carmel Lancia, a member of the historical society's board of directors.
Also new this year is a Farmer's Markets in Belmont, scheduled for Sunday mornings at the Tioga Pavilion and parking lot near the Belmont Mill, which organizer Gretta Olson-Wilder says is being promoted as more of an event to attend versus a three minute dash to get lettuce. The Farmer's Markets will take place once per month on June 28, July 26, August 30, and September 20.
Belmont market hours will be 9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. ''It is hoped that they will become a gathering place by not only showcasing local vendors but to also offer a children's craft and/or activity and some live entertainment and demonstrations each month," says Wilder.
The Sandwich Farmers Market is open twice a week this year, on from 9 to 11:30 a.m. at the Corner House and Wednesdays from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Community Church on Church Street.
The market will feature locally grown vegetables, meat, herbs, flowers, maple syrup, jams and more.
The Wolfeboro Area Farmers Market will be open every Thursday from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. through October at Clark Park, 233 South Main Street, in Wolfeboro.
Board President Fred Martin says that he expects there will be more than 25 vendors this year.
In Franklin there will be a Farmers' Market every Tuesday through September from 3-6 p.m. at Franklin Regional Hospital.

Finer Diner opens in Laconia Antique Center

LACONIA — "I was the oldest of three helping my mother and food just came naturally to me," said Tommie Ryan, who recently reopened the lunch counter and soda fountain at the Laconia Antique Center as The Finer Diner. "The extra good taste is the love I put into it."

Ryan, who has owned several businesses in the Lakes Region during the past 30 years, said that she recently closed an antique store and came to the Laconia Antique Center seeking to rent space. She said that Charlie St. Clair, who owns the building and manages the business, is an old friend, asked her if she knew anyone who could cook and she immediately answered "pick me".

"I'm keeping things as retro as possible," Ryan said, adding that without a friolator, "I can't do greasy burgers and fries." But, St. Clair said that "her grilled cheese is to die for." She explained that she uses only buttery bread then butters both sides to brown in the grill. Other choice include egg, tuna or chicken salad, hot dogs — with chili or sour kraut — sausage dogs —with pepper and onion — and meatball subs.
The "Wicked Gobbla Wrap," a taste of the holidays with turkey cran-mayo, swiss cheese, red onion, warm stuffing and cranberry sauce tops a selections and wraps.

Four sorts of pasta — spaghetti, fettuccini, shells and ziti — come with either white alfredo or yellow cheese sauce and a selection of meat.

Although Ryan begins serving at 10 a.m., when the center opens, she offers a breakfast menu eggs, baked beans, bacon and sausage as well as French toast and cereal.

"The prices are retro too," Ryan said. Sandwiches range between $3 and $6.50. A dish of pasta with four meatballs costs $4.50 and $1 buys a pair of garlic knots on the side.

Ryan serves Gifford's Ice Cream from Skowhegan, Maine, made by the same family for the past five generations, and coffee from the Woodshed Roasting Company of Laconia. She said she hopes to arrange with local bakers to expand her range of desserts beyond sundaes, shakes, floats and frappes.

All prices at The Finer Diner include the state tax. But, notices on the counter remind patrons to "Show Us Your Tips".


CAPTIONÚ Tommie Ryan, dressed in her retro pink and black ensemble, serves ice cream, breakfast and lunch with the ambience of the 1950s for near '50's prices at the counter of The Finer Diner at the Laconia Antique Center. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Michael Kitch)