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Grocery shoppers collect their shares, literally

July 19, 1998|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Looking over bins of eggplants, cucumbers, peppers and other vegetables and herbs, Jack and Betty Huston did some alternative grocery shopping Friday at Wilson College.

The Hustons have been shareholders in the Community Supported Agriculture Program at the college for three years. As shareholders, no money changed hands.

Steve Moore, director of the Center for Sustainable Living at the college, pointed to signs on the bins. Those with half a share may take two cucumbers. A full shareholder is entitled to four.

"There's a contractual agreement between the consumer and the producer," Moore said. For $550 for a full share, or $285 for half a share, shareholders once a week can pick their share of organically grown crops.


Moore said 110 shares were sold this year with 34 weeks of guaranteed distribution. Last year, the farm distributed food from March to December, most of it produced on about an acre of intensely farmed ground and an unheated greenhouse, he said.

The selection isn't as wide as in a supermarket because it's limited to what grows in this climate at different times of the year, he said.

"We try to encourage people to eat seasonal produce," he said.

That's part of the program's effort to reduce the energy needed to grow food. Moore said "9.8 calories of fossil fuel are used to grow one calorie of food value."

It's not tractors using most of the fuel, he said. More is used in the production of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides and transportation. Whether it's Chilean grapes or raspberries from Ireland, food travels an average of 1,500 miles before reaching a store shelf.

Some shareholders also travel far. He said they come from as far away as Mechanicsburg, Pa., and Sharpsburg, Md., although he'd prefer to see more centers so people didn't have to travel as far.

He said there's about 800 centers around the country with a total of about 100,000 shareholders.

Moore said the farm supports about 60 percent of the Center for Sustainable Living's operations. "If it wasn't viable economically ... the CSA would be of no value," he said.

The rest of the center's budget comes from government and foundation grants and workshops the center hosts. Moore said 20 percent of the food goes to the Salvation Army.

Students and interns work at the 211-year-old farm where Moore, his wife, Carol, and three children live. Lois Tomaszewski, of Reading, Pa., is there on an internship from Ecology Action, a foundation she said supports "the bio-intensive movement."

She hopes to use center methods to create a marketable program for a women's shelter in Berks County near Philadelphia.

Moore said the center also examines energy, shelter and water issues, but the main focus is on food.

"The students need to learn something other than what's in a book," said Moore, who previously taught at Gettysburg College and once set up living history farms for the National Park Service.

Roaming the college farm last Friday was a film crew from "Green Works for Pennsylvania," a co-production of the Environmental Fund for Pennsylvania and the state's Department of Environmental Protection.

Producer Tamar Charry said the show runs on 74 cable access and public television stations around the state, including Channel 16 on the TV Cable system in Chambersburg.

"We show ways in which the people in Pennsylvania are taking positive steps to protect the environment," she said.

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