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New London - Across from a stand of locally made soaps and in front of aisle of organic cleaners, farmers set up tables Sunday to advertise shares in their business.
In a sign that spring is approaching, four local farms participated in the community-supported agriculture fair at Fiddleheads Food Co-Op. Community-supported agriculture, or CSA, allows families to pay farmers a certain amount up front and receive bags, boxes or baskets of food at regular intervals, often weekly.
Kristiane Huber, a representative from the Connecticut branch of Northeast Organic Farming Association, said CSAs are important to farmers because they allow consumers and farmers to share risk. When people sign up for a CSA, they do so with the understanding that they will pay a certain amount but the crop yield may vary due to weather or other factors. Farmers would be less viable without that shared risk, said Huber.
CSAs also provide many benefits to the customers, said Huber. They eliminate the middle man, allowing farms to sell directly to consumers. That allows them to bypass grocery store lines and feel more connected to their food.
Teresa Schacht, a farmer at Hunts Brook Farm in Waterford who was selling CSAs at Fiddleheads, agreed that it's important for people to feel more connected to their food. Although her CSA does not allow shareholders to pick their own food, she often asks parents in the program if their kids have picked carrots or other vegetables. If not, she takes the children out to do so.
"It's important for us to have kids see where their food is coming from," she said.
Schacht, whose farm hopes to sell around 75 CSAs for their June-October season, called them "the backbone of our business."
CSAs are "very helpful for farmers because we need income at the very beginning of the season," she explained.
Nasreen and Ed Hyde, a couple shopping at Fiddleheads who are now considering purchasing a CSA, also thought it would be advantageous for children. Nasreen Hyde said their kids, who are 10, 12, and 14 years old, are "really into this."
Hyde said her son would be eager to dig in the dirt at F.R.E.S.H. New London, a community garden that was advertising at Sunday's fair. She said she grew up in an apartment where there wasn't much dirt around, but has been learning to garden recently and wants to share that experience with her children.
Hyde said CSAs appeal to her because the food is organically grown and it gives her an opportunity to support local farmers. Before Sunday's event, she and her husband had heard of CSAs but didn't know how they worked.
The fair is "great because they're explaining everything to us," she said.