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Buying the Farm: CSA Comes to BU

Ward’s Berry Farm offers local fruit, veggies


Ward’s Berry Farm started offering CSA shares to the BU community two weeks ago. Photos by Cydney Scott

Gabe Stein’s mom would be proud of him. She’s purchased fruit and vegetables for the last five years from a local community supported agriculture (CSA) group in Denver, Colo. Now Stein (CAS’11) is following in her footsteps, thanks to a new project at BU’s weekly farmers market.

“I got used to the taste of fresh produce,” says Stein as he picks up his CSA share—containing a variety ranging from edamame and cherry tomatoes to basil, squash, eggplant, and sweet corn—at last Thursday’s farmers market at the George Sherman Union Plaza.

Stein was one of 47 people picking up a 20-pound box of fresh produce from the Ward’s Berry Farm stand. The Sharon, Mass.–based farm is the first to offer CSA shares at Boston University. Members pay $20 a week for fresh-picked, in-season fruits and vegetables. As with any CSA, the farm selects the vegetables, based on what is ready for harvesting.

Picking up a 20-pound box of fruit and vegetables at BU’s farmers market on the GSU Plaza.

The campus-based CSA was the brainchild of Joseph Nangle (SMG’12). Having just moved to an on-campus apartment, Nangle knew he’d be cooking more and wanted to join a local CSA. Problem was, most CSAs have drop-off points relatively far from where he lives—like Cambridge, Brookline, and Allston.

“It’s not a very easy proposition to carry home 15 pounds of vegetables from Allston,” Nangle says. He also found that most CSAs cater to year-round residents who pay for their shares in early spring. Getting his money’s worth at the tail end of the growing season seemed impossible.

Ever persistent, the University junior struck up a conversation a couple of weeks ago with Ward’s Berry representative Steve Catanese. (Since spending five summers at a working farm in Pennsylvania, Nangle likes to talk to  restaurant workers and farmers—as he puts it, “the people who feed me.”) They volleyed the idea of starting a CSA at BU.

“I figured there are tons of people like me in apartments without the time or the drive to walk a mile with their food,” Nangle says. “Eating local produce and supporting a farmer isn’t necessarily the easiest thing to do in our culture.”

The two talked strategy—what could Ward’s offer students for $20? Catanese threw together a sampler bag of goodies, handing it to Nangle with a challenge: get 20 names and the farm would deliver the next week.

A marketing and entrepreneurship major, Nangle pitched the idea to shoppers that afternoon at the farmers market. He collected a list of names and email addresses, added those of interested friends, and sent it to Catanese. Sabrina Harper, Dining Services sustainability coordinator, heard about the venture and sent an email blast to students the night before the next market. All told, 34 students snagged first shares the following day.

Nangle was happy with the turnout: “From concept to sold out in a week.”

Farm owner Jim Ward, who’s farmed for 28 years, is also pleased with the BU community’s response and the CSA concept in general. He thinks it “just makes sense” to distribute the freshest, most abundant produce directly to consumers.

“It’s sort of a group of people who are trusting our recommendations,” Ward says, something that doesn’t happen easily in a world of repeat salmonella and E. coli scares. And it isn’t good just for the palette. It’s good for the wallet, too. Catanese estimates that the box of produce participants receive each week would cost about a third more if purchased at a grocery store.  

Ward farms 150 acres, about 18 fully organic. The rest is maintained under an integrated pest management system, whereby insects or chemicals are applied to nix nuisances without damaging crops or beneficial bugs.

Ward’s Berry Farm also operates a farm stand and traditional CSA in Sharon, as well as a restaurant delivery route.

Business, Ward says, has been good as more people join a resurgent movement to eat local produce. “It’s cool for students to reconnect with the seasons,” he says.

Ward’s Berry Farm is still accepting members for its BU CSA. Students, faculty, and staff are welcome to join. Sign up or get more information at buboxes@aol.com. Box pickup is at the farm’s stand on the GSU Plaza every Thursday from now through October 14.

Leslie Friday can be reached at lfriday@bu.edu; follow her on Twitter at @lesliefriday.


3 Comments on Buying the Farm: CSA Comes to BU

  • Anonymous on 09.20.2010 at 11:30 am

    Into the winter?

    One of the most exciting “green” initiatives on campus to date! Thanks to Joseph and Sabrina for organizing this. I know the farm is eager to keep the CSA box distribution going even after the farmer’s market closes October 14th. Can we find a way to make that happen so that students, faculty and staff can have fresh winter veggies, too?

  • Sabrina Harper on 09.20.2010 at 3:04 pm

    Re: Into the winter?

    We can definitely try to stretch the CSA out into November, depending on availability of produce from the farm, and interest by the students/community. Please email me to inquire: harpers@bu.edu. Thank you for your interest!

  • Minnesota CSA on 10.01.2010 at 2:19 pm

    Great to see!

    It’s wonderful to see CSA’s popping up in new venues such as BU. The CSA concept has been so widely successful that we’re starting to see new forms of it evolve. I applaud the initiative.

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