New Leaf: Community Supported Agriculture offers breath of fresh air

By Lauren Belcher |
Photo by Josh Weaver

PHOTO CAPTION: Jeff Baptist, local farmer, and Joanna Dembek (right) assist potential customers at the Old City Farmers market. Baptist grows organic produce with the help of his community supported agriculture program.

Jeff Baptist is a real farmer, and his farm, Spring Song Organic Farm, grows certified organic fruits and vegetables. He has a Community Supported Agriculture program.

I found Baptist when I went to the Old City Farmers Market. His farm is in Alachua, which is about 90 miles from Flagler College.

Joanna Dembek helps Baptist with his CSA program. The CSA program allows a person to buy a share of the farm for six months or for a whole year. After paying the upfront cost, the member receives weekly shares of the harvest.

“I think this is a little more ideal for the common person, they still can get a lot of seasonal stuff, but they can sneak in there their apples or avocados and their things that aren’t seasonal that they just need to have on the side,” Dembek said.

  • Full Year [A]: $1144, 52 WEEKS, $22 weekly share
  • Full Year [B]: $572, 52 WEEKS, $11 weekly share
  • Half Year [A]: $572, 26 WEEKS, $22 weekly share
  • Half Year [B]: $286, 26 WEEKS, $11 weekly share

“If you’re a single person or two people, it’s so great getting fresh food like this, as opposed to going to Publix or something,” Dembek said. “It’s so fresh that it lasts in your refrigerator for two weeks.”

According to, produce is considered organic when it is grown without pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms or ionizing radiation.

Because of the requirements of growing certified organic foods, many people believe organic food is more expensive. This is not always true.

Tom McElderry, a CSA manager for a Californian farm, says the main factor in determining cost of food is travel. “Most food travels about 1,600 miles to get to the consumer,” McElderry said in the documentary “The Future of Food.”

“People not only don’t know where their food comes from, but they don’t even know what to do with the raw materials when they get it…CSA is a way of giving people back the sources of their food,” McElderry said.

Travel is not an issue for Baptist. He drives to St. Augustine once a week and sets up his booth at the Farmers Market for his CSA members and for anyone else who wants to buy his organic food. He promises that all the food he brings to the market was picked either that morning or the evening before.

Baptist said that he would be willing to work out a payment schedule if a student wanted to participate in the CSA program. The CSA program helps Baptist directly. He no longer needs to front the money for items like seeds, fertilizer and equipment.

“In the end, everybody’s happy,” Dembek said. “You get more vegetables, more variety, and he doesn’t go down as a farmer. He doesn’t make money until people buy things, and he can’t have people buy things until they’re harvested. There’s so much work done in advance that there’s no money coming in for it.”

Two transplants, Claire McKenzie and Jasper Montgomery, moved to St. Augustine and looked for a local CSA program to join. They were members of a CSA program in Maine and wanted to continue to enjoy fresh, locally grown food. Their search turned up one result: Spring Song Organic Farm.

McKenzie, a sales and marketing manager and artist, said that supporting small farms is essential. She hopes that soon people will start making the connection between where their food comes from and eating organically, or at least pesticide-free. But, she thinks more and more people are catching on.

“It was very difficult when we moved to this area to find local, organic produce,” McKenzie said. “A lot of it is shipping in from elsewhere, and supporting local farms is really an important movement that I think more people need to realize where their food source comes from. So to find the one and only organic CSA in this area was thrilling for us. He needs members and he needs people to support him. And we’re happy to do that.”

“We’re looking forward to him having more of his local stuff in the winter months,” Montgomery, a Jacksonville University student, said. “Every week we get an email letting us know what he’s going to have at the market. We like to come and look at the produce and see what we like. It’s a fabulous service.”

Flagler College Communication Professor Mark Huelsbeck and his wife are also CSA members. “It’s locally grown organic produce, you can’t get any better than that for taste and nutrition, and I really like to support local agriculture,” Huelsbeck said. “That’s a really great way to save money on local produce, and support the farmers. This is our third time doing the CSA.”

There are many differences between Baptist’s CSA program and the mainstream. “A typical CSA, they’re a little different,” Dembek said. “Usually you get a box full of food every week, you go to a pick up place and the farmer hands you a box. It’s like a mystery box. And they’re not organic, they do use pesticides on the food.”

But, in Baptist’s CSA, the member comes to the market and hand selects their share for the week. The produce is “sold” to the CSA member at a discounted rate. Depending on the package price they selected, the member chooses 11 or 22 dollars worth of food. If they miss a week, they can “roll-over” their produce to the next week or add a week to their CSA.

Baptist also supports local businesses. He sells his produce at wholesale to companies such as Blue Planet Cooperative and Manatee Cafe. “Restaurants or health food bars, big health food stores, I present to them with the wholesale CSA and then they get a case price,” Baptist said. “They don’t have to worry about a change in price. Usually it goes up and then it goes down.”

One of the biggest benefits to eating locally grown food: developing a relationship with the farmer who grows the food and to learn more about how food is grown and handled.

“Two main things: freshness, picked the day before versus two weeks, plus all the petrol and the energy being used to ship it from 3,000 miles away. The other thing: you develop a friendship. It gives you a good feeling to support local people, not just farmers.”

Just when you feel like you have no control over what you are eating anymore, out comes a real farmer with real organic food.

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Lauren Belcher is a Senior Writer and Copy Editor for The Gargoyle. In her column, New Leaf, she introduces environmental issues and offers ways to fight environmental destruction. She is a Communication major and Environmental Science minor at Flagler College.

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