Christi Paulson of Salt Lake City values knowing where her food comes from and that it didn't have to travel 1,500 miles to get to her table.

By participating in a program that partners local residents and farmers, Paulson is able to have peace of mind about her concerns and what practices have been used to grow it.

"It's good food and doesn't have to travel long distances to get to me," she said. "Organic (growing) is important because I want to know what's in my food, especially if there's poisons going into the dirt."

Paulson is a participant in the Community Supported Agriculture program. CSA is an innovative partnership between agricultural producers and consumers. Members of the local community, such as Paulson, pay a fee at the beginning of the growing season to meet a farm's operating expenses for the upcoming season. In return, these members, or shareholders, receive a portion of the farm's produce each week throughout the growing season.

The essence of the program is that farmers and consumers share in the risks and benefits of farming. With CSA the entire farm community shares both bounty and scarcity. This cooperation provides financial security to the unpredictable nature of farming and allows the community to reap the benefits of eating fresh, locally grown food while getting a closer connection to their food, their land and local agriculture, said Alison Rogers, spokeswoman for Great Salt Lake RC&D.

This connection is one of the favorite things about CSA for Jeremy East, owner of East Farms LLC, one of the four CSA farms in Utah, located in West Point, Davis County.

"We like doing (CSA) so that it helps us connect with the consumer," he said. "We hear more about what they like and don't like and know who's using our produce."

Typically family operated, CSA farms range from 3 to 300 acres and provide food for 10 to more than 200 households. CSA farms are highly diversified, usually growing more than 40 different vegetables, herbs and fruits. Many farms also supply meat, eggs, honey and other agriculture products, Rogers said.

East's farm is 200 acres, and he starts planting in March and is finished harvesting around Halloween. Last year he had about 350 shareholders for produce on his farm. He said one of the most difficult things about CSA for him is keeping up with the variety of crops he grows.

"With our CSA farm we grow a really big variety. It's challenging sometimes overseeing 50 different crops versus 10," he said.

East's produce includes anything from green beans to cantaloupe, corn, onions, peas, peppers, squash, tomatoes and several types of fruit.

John Borski, proprietor of Borski Organic Farms in Kaysville, another CSA farm, said his produce includes a variety of heirloom salad greens, cooking greens, peas, beans, garlic, squash, potatoes, corn, tomatoes and many other fruits, vegetables and herbs. Starting this year he is offering herb starts such as dill, cilantro and Italian parsley, raspberries from Bear Lake and fruit from the USU Extension orchard in Kaysville.

Borski offers only full shares, which typically feed one to two people, for $175 a season. East offers both half and full shares. Typically, he said, families of one to three subscribe to half shares and families greater than three subscribe to full shares. Shares generally contain four or more types of produce, depending on what is in season. Half shares from East go for $185 while full shares are $365 a season.

Each week CSA farmers deliver their produce to several specified locations, and shareholders are required to pick it up in a certain length of time, unless prior arrangements have been made. Borski said he likes that his shareholders don't get to choose what produce they receive each week and instead get whatever is in season.

Joan Gregory, who has been a shareholder in two CSA farms for the past several years, including Borski's, likes that the boxes contain such a variety. Paulson agrees.

"I just love to get the box every week," she said. "It's like a Christmas present."

East and Borski said that the biggest complaint they get with produce on their farms is that people are not able to use all of it. Many CSAs send out a weekly or monthly newsletter with recipes and suggestions for preserving the produce. Gregory said sometimes if she isn't going to be able to use all the produce, she does a Christmas in July and takes it as a surprise to her neighbors.

Borski and East both agreed that CSA farming makes it easier to turn a profit than traditional farming. Since shareholders don't get to choose what produce they receive each week, they must take what's offered, which helps with supply and demand.

"(CSA farming) has increased as the total profit of our farm and the sales of our farm," East said. "It's a step above wholesale. It helps us get our product to the consumer and no one is in the middle taking a percentage. It's helped us quite a bit."

Anyone interested in finding out more about participating in CSA can contact Rogers at 263-3204, ext. 104, or alison.rogers@ut.usda.gov. Or visit Great Salt Lake RC&D's Web site at www.greatsaltlakercd.org.

Gregory said participating in CSA is nice because she doesn't have time to garden herself but still wants her family to have fresh produce. She says the produce also helps with cooking.

"It's a great way to learn how to cook and for kids to learn about vegetables," she said.


E-mail: twalquist@desnews.com