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Willing to work for free veggies

  • Story Highlights
  • Free fresh produce is available to some willing to work on farms
  • Some Community Supported Agriculture members choose to pay fee
  • A share of the harvest is available to members of CSAs
  • Eating locally grown food also reduces your carbon footprint
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By Lindy Royce
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UPPER MARLBORO, Maryland (CNN) -- Abbie Turiansky will spend four hours every Saturday for the next six months digging, planting, fertilizing and watering. But she won't be gardening in her back yard. She'll be working at a farm in rural Maryland, in exchange for a weekly parcel of produce at no monetary cost to her.


A few hours of hard work can earn the laborer a portion of the farm's bounty.

"It's a great way to get outside, work on the farm and really get in touch with where your foods are coming from," says the college student.

And don't forget about the free food. In this period of sky-high gas and food costs, U.S. consumers are looking for more economical food choices.

A growing number are choosing to help grow their food by joining their local Community Supported Agriculture. Through CSAs, consumers are invited to become members of a farm, in exchange for a weekly share of the farm's harvest. According to The Land Stewardship Project -- a nonprofit organization promoting sustainable agriculture -- you don't always have to pay -- with cash -- for that food.

"Some CSA farms expect members to work on the farm at least once during the season while others only expect members to support the farm with their membership," the organization states on its Web site.

At the Clagett Farm in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, members have the option to do either. Paying members write a check for $500 for the six-month harvesting season if they pick up the weekly portion at a drop-off point in Washington; or $460 to go to the farm for their food.

Customers who choose not to spend their Saturday mornings working at the farm believe the fee is well worth it. Joshua Thomas brings his young son to the farm for his weekly produce pick-ups. "At first we signed up for it because it was a good deal [for] fresh foods," Thomas says, "Now groceries are getting more expensive so this has even turned into a better deal."

Jan Sloan is a mother of three and agrees the CSA option is the best bang for your buck. "This is very much a benefit for us as a large family because vegetable prices are much higher this year."

Other members, like Turiansky, work four hours a week on the farm in exchange for a weekly allotment of produce. Turiansky sees many benefits from that arrangement.

"I really like to know where my food comes from, and coming out here I can see where it's grown, that it's grown in a way I feel comfortable with, not a lot of pesticides," she says.

Farm Vegetable Manager Carrie Vaughn also believes that working CSA members benefit both themselves and the farm. "It's a great deal for us because we get four hours of their work, and it's a great deal for them because it's like a great workout and they don't have to pay gym fees. So everybody wins," Vaughn says.

CSAs also help the environment. "I'd like to minimize my footprint as much as I can," Turiansky says, "Minimizing how many carbon emissions result from my lifestyle and ... the number of miles that my food travels is a pretty good way to do that.

Michael Pollan, author of the New York Times Bestseller "In Defense of Food," says that with grocery store deliveries out of the equation, the earth profits. "The carbon footprint of eating this way is diminished," Pollan says, "You are supporting sustainable agriculture and there's not a lot of transportation involved."

Because members don't get to choose the farmer's crop, Pollan believes Community Supported Agriculture forces you to try fruits and vegetables you may not normally try.

"It gets you out of your rut so you find yourself cooking things that you might not have bought at the market," Pollan says, "I've discovered lots of vegetables I like that I didn't used to know what to do with."

Americans looking for ways to save green, while getting a large collection of greens, may want to look into this increasingly popular and creative method of getting their produce.

If you're interested in joining a CSA, plan ahead for the next year. For most farms, the season extends from May to November and many already have waiting lists for next year. Carrie Vaughn is hoping more farms will start CSAs to absorb the high interest. "It has become very popular," she says.

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