Sunday, May 24, 2009

CSA - Is it for You?

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is one of the growing trends in eating these days. There are several ways you can participate in CSA, including local farm markets, pick your own farms, purchasing a farm "share", and in some places volunteering to pick in return for a part of the harvest.

Local farm markets seems to be cropping up everywhere. Once perched on roadsides in the semi-country and then moved into more permanent quarters in some places these have been around for years. There is one in our area that is more than 25 years old - we've shopped there that long. Clearly they grow much of what they sell, but it appears that they also bring in produce from surrounding states when it is not in season here - like tomatoes in May. Recently the farmers' market downtown has been renovated and improved and four or five local markets have cropped up in neighborhoods - including mine. Ours is open two mornings a week from May to November and apparently most of the others have similar schedules. I see that some of the same farmers participate in several of these, so apparently a good farmer also has to find competent folks to staff his/her booths at the markets every week.

Pick Your Own has been big in our area for years, especially for strawberries. There are at least two major nurseries that have specialized in PYO for years - one going right thru PYO pumpkins in October. I think this is probably a big hit with the children's crowd, and less popular with older citizens. I have picked strawberries a couple of times and it's hard, bent-over work!

Buy a Share is fairly new to me. We started hearing our young friends talking about this two years ago. This year we joined in splitting a share with another couple. I found 16 farms in our area who sell CSA shares and deliver to various places on various days - one specializes in berries and fruit, while the rest provide mostly vegetables with some berries. The produce is not only fresh, but fully ripe which is a big plus for me. The strawberries are a great example. For the past two weeks we have gotten three quarts of fully ripe, fresh berries. I have not thrown away a single over-ripe berry, and have not found a single under-ripe berry. We have literally eaten every one. We have also gotten plenty of good green vegetables - some that are unfamiliar, but eating new things is part of the experience. So far we have eaten everything within the week, but our partners in this share tell us that the time will come when that is impossible. They froze a lot last year and enjoyed it all winter, so I am looking forward to that, too.

Work for harvest also sounds like fun for a slightly younger crowd. It would be a good way for a farmer to get his/her crop in and sell it at the same time. Apparently in the earlier days of CSA as farms were looking for a good business model, this was a way to share the risk with the clients.

What do you get? I've mentioned fresher produce, which for me is the big deal. But there are also other reasons to join a CSA. Supporting local producers and small family farmers is a goal for many in today's economy and global economy. Would you rather eat local strawberries or berries from Costa Rica? Certainly if the latter all are that's available, they will do. If local are available tho, it's a harder question to answer. Well, not for me! Our farmer calls it being a "locavore". Almost makes you want one of those bumper stickers that say "Eat Locally, Think Globally" doesn't it! Many of the farms are certified organic. This is not a big concern for me, but for our partners who have small children it is a big deal. I saw many farms who said they are not certified, but follow all the practices required of certified farms, so if use of pesticides is a concern for you this may be an answer. Our partners say that the organic produce may be a bit less expensive thru the CSA than at the store.

What does it cost? That's hard to answer because the cost varies from farm to farm and from plan to plan. Our half comes out to about $25 a week for both fruit and berries. At the moment we are buying additional things - like lettuce and pineapple - to fill out the week, and I think we will probably do that all summer for variety and exotic fruit. But as a part of my weekly food budget, I feel like it is well spent and reasonable.

How do you join? The easiest way is probably to go to Local Harvest and see what you can find in your area. They have a lot of information and can provide information about and contact information for the farms in your area. Many will have links to their applications or sites right at Local Harvest. Is it for you? I don't know. I do know it's worth considering. Most of all, it's fun to have someone else do the choosing for you!

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