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The Salinas Californian
May, 2007
By Dawn Withers

Group harvests link to the S.F. Bay Area
ALBA, Planet Organics team up to deliver county crops

A program that delivers farm-fresh organic produce to San Francisco Bay Area residents doesn't just bring healthy food; it also helps connect consumers with farmers.

This year, Monterey County organic farmers are helping make that link with about 5,000 Bay Area households.

Salinas-based Agriculture and Land-based Training Association, which trains field workers to become independent farmers, also helps its students sell their produce. Now it has partnered with South San Francisco-based Planet Organics, a company that delivers organic produce weekly to customers' homes in the Bay Area.

Planet Organics and ALBA began working together earlier this year. The company has purchased about 450 crates of produce a week from ALBA growers since the end of February, said Lorene Reed, co-owner of Planet Organics with her husband, Larry Bearg.

"It's important for me to develop that community feeling about food," Reed said last week.

Supporting an organization, such as ALBA, that helps people become organic farmers is a mission of her company - and something she "digs," she said.

Planet Organics purchases beets, carrots, strawberries and leafy greens, among other produce, Reed said, and the company wants to arrange with ALBA for custom plantings of types of produce in demand by its customers.

"The strawberries are fabulous," she said.

Gary Peterson, ALBA's communications and development director, said Planet Organics "has made a significant sales commitment to ALBA and is ramping up purchases from farmers here."

ALBA operates what's called community-supported agriculture, often referred to by its initials, CSA. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, that involves "a community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation so that the farmland becomes, either legally or spiritually, the community's farm."

Typically, such CSA groups deliver a carton of produce each week to individual consumers who have signed up for the service.

This model - employed all over the country - gives food an identity, Peterson said, and connects the consumer to farmers and the farm.

"We feel shortening the distance between the farm and consumers brings about a number of benefits, such as healing the food system," he said.

The model is an alternative to the industrial food system, in which large harvests of particular commodities are centrally processed and shipped over long distances and sold through chain supermarkets or discount stores.

ALBA's client base has continued to grow over the past five years, Peterson said, with large organizations such as the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz joining the Stanford University dining service, one of ALBA's earliest customers.

Viella Shipley, marketing director for Santa Cruz-based California Certified Organic Farmers, said the CSA model came from Japan.

"It's kind of cool, the way it creates community," Shipley said.


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