Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Join the CSA community

It's all over the web: why you should join a CSA. So, I don't need to write about something everyone else already has. But, I'm just so darn excited about it.

I've had several people ask me about joining a CSA, or they want to know how to eat healthier, and each time, I give an answer much longer than what I'm sure they expected. I just can't hold back!

First, what is CSA? Community-supported agriculture is an agreement between farmer and community. CSA members make an agreement to support their farmer, and the farmer agrees to supply them with a share of the season's bounty.  Of course, farming relies on the whims of Mother Nature, so CSA members understand that if the weather doesn't cooperate, food may not be so plentiful. On the other hand, if there's a bumper crop, members reap the benefits along with the farmer.

How does it work? There are meat CSAs and cheese CSAs, but my experience has been with vegetable CSAs, so that's what I'm focusing on here. Different farms organize their CSAs differently. Here are some examples:

When we lived in Maine, we signed up for our first CSA at Little Ridge Farm. We chose one of two pick-up days per week, and went to the farm to get our veggies. Each week, we were told a certain total weight that all our veggies could add up to. It was up to us to weigh everything. Some things (like early tomatoes) had limits, and sometimes there was an extra item.

Now that we live in a less rural area, picking up at a farm isn't as practical, so we appreciate that farms like Kilpatrick Family Farm organize CSA pick ups at farmers markets. Like our farm in Maine, KFF lets you choose the veggies you want from what is available. The only difference is that theirs is done by item, rather than by total weight. KFF also has a required item each week -- usually a veggie that is plentiful.

Some farms package the food in a box each week or tell their members how much of which vegetables they can take. From what I've read, this is actually the more common way CSAs work. I can see the benefits here. The farmer ensures that the crops he has the most of are distributed, and the member has a quicker, simpler pick up. I believe this is the way Denison Farm, The Alleged Farm and Quincy Farm work.

WHY join a CSA? Really this is the most important question, right?

No matter what type of CSA you sign up for the benefits are huge. If getting a weekly supply of the best food possible at a discount, so you can keep your family healthy isn't enough to convince you, here are a few more reasons.

You and your family will try vegetables you've never eaten before. Your farmer is likely to give you recipes and help you learn how to cook the produce you're not familiar with. You might discover that you like rutabaga, parsnips or arugula. You'll get to enjoy garlic scapes in the spring. And, by eating locally grown food, you might find out what a carrot is supposed to taste like -- compared to what you find in the supermarket, there is a difference!

No matter what vegetables you discover, you will know where and how they were grown and who grew them. You will be closer to your food.

By signing up for a CSA, you join a community. Most farms send out weekly newsletters and invite CSAs members to visit and take tours. Some hold special events for their members. Some open their fields to members for pick-your-own berries or other crops. No matter what, you will see the same friendly faces each week and you will very likely form a one-on-one relationship with your farmer.

I'm pretty sure that all of the farms I mentioned, except for Denison Farm, still have shares left for the 2012 summer season. But, from what I hear they're selling fast. So, don't wait. Pick your farm and sign up for a CSA soon.

And, if I haven't convinced you here are some links from around the web where others will tell you how awesome CSAs are.

The Local Harvest , which is a great resources for finding CSAs, farmers markets and other sources of local food, defines CSA.
The members of From Scratch Club each gave their personal accounts of why they are CSA members, and I discovered, after I started writing this morning, they just posted a podcast on the subject.

(Addition): This piece a Grist talks about why CSAs are historical, and should remain, more than should "veggie subscriptions" and keep members connected to farms.

And, at, one blogger talks about a different type of CSA, her householder CSA.

I hope to bump into you while picking up my share.

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