Saturday, January 10, 2009

Community Supported Agriculture

My family watches PBS for almost all of our TV viewing. On one of the shows last year we saw a snippet about Community Supported Agriculture (CSA for short). For those of you that are unfamiliar with that term, as I was, these programs allow you to buy a share in a local farmers crop. This enables the farmer to bypass the grocery stores and put more money into their pockets while providing you the freshest produce possible!

How it works will vary from farmer to farmer but in general, each farm offers a specified amount of their projected crop directly to the public through a contract. You agree to purchase this amount weekly or bi-weekly. Sometimes they require the yearly fee upfront and some ask for the funds weekly upon pick-up. Contract prices vary, as do produce variety.

Most CSA participating farmers will provide you with a list of vegetables and/or fruits that they grow, along with a base expected output. You will be expected to be flexible with what you'll receive because your box will only include the crops that are in season. For instance, a box in the spring may include peas, beets and broccoli, but you won't receive tomatoes and summer squash until summer. This may be a big adjustment to people who are used to picking up whatever they want, whenever they want at the grocery store. Most will not customize your box for you, so if you don't like onions or cauliflower, you may end up with it anyway.

Each box will vary in weight according to the crop available, but normally the CSA will guarantee the box to weight between 10-15 pounds a week or something similar. Some CSA's have 1/2 shares available which are good for those of you who have smaller families or don't cook as much as you'd like.

Some CSA's offer delivery to your door or neighborhood and others you'll pick up at the farm or farmers market. A few will included extras such as eggs, fresh bread and flowers!

When searching for a CSA participant look for these things to insure the best bang for your buck:
  1. Ask for a listing of previous crops and those being planted for the current season. When you receive this list, make sure they have the vegetables and any extras you're looking for.

  2. Ask about farming processes. Do they grow organic? If they use pesticides, what kinds do they use? Are they using sustainable farming methods that reduce fertilizers and water consumption?

  3. Verify the pick up or drop off arrangements. Just because a farm is near you doesn't mean you can pick your share up within a reasonable distance.

  4. Ask to visit the farm before buying a share. If they won't let you visit, something might not be quite right with the operation.

  5. Ask for references from current or previous customers. You want to know how they've enjoyed their experience.

  6. Some farms offer discounts for working around the farm. If this is something you and your family may enjoy, it may be well worth the savings!

  7. Check to see if the farm has greenhouses. If they do, they'll be able to protect their seedlings from late or early season frost and may be able to extend their growing season.

  8. Ask about vacation arrangements. If you're out of town for a few weeks can someone else accept your share?

With all of this in mind check out Local Harvest to find a CSA. If one is not available in your area plan to visit a co-op or Farmer's Market. You may find a farmer there that can help you further.

Buying locally will help the local economy by keeping money in the area, reduce emissions for transporting your food, provide the local farmer with a better income than selling wholesale to the grocery store, and your family will receive the freshest food available at amazing prices!

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