Editor’s Note: While working on TheFortyProject.com (we’ve got 90 fans now on Facebook!), I discovered SimplyForties.com and followed the blogger, Mary (@simplyforties). She mentioned having joined a CSA (“Community Supported Agriculture”–or, in the U.K., a “fruit and veg scheme”) for the first time, so I invited her to share her experience. Below is the entry she sent to RW&G. (Note that it appears on her site, too.)
After reading this post, be sure to stop by today to share what’s growing in your garden either on Twitter (use the #twitter4vg hash) or on the RW&G Facebook page (which has 300 fantastic fans!).
Community Supported Agriculture or CSAs are a great way to support the efforts of local farms and bring seasonal, locally grown produce to your table every week. The way a CSA works is that you purchase a “share” in a farm, which uses your funds, plus the funds of others, to run their operation. In return you receive a share of whatever the farm produces, on a weekly basis.
I’d been hearing about CSAs for a few years but was never in a position to join one until I moved to east Tennessee. Since it was early spring when I arrived, I was anxious to investigate and get onboard with a CSA right away. I ended up purchasing a half-share in Colvin Family Farms and it has been a very positive experience so far.
Every week I pick up an assortment of produce at the local farmer’s market. Some CSAs deliver but picking up at a central location is very common. I chose my farm based solely on the pickup point. So far I have received three boxes of produce, missing one when I was out of town.
This particular CSA’s half share cost averaged out to $20.00 a week for 25 weeks. Since the majority of my grocery bill is produce, this seemed like a good deal to me. The fact that it was locally grown produce was a big bonus. The initial boxes consisted primarily of greens, since that’s what grows around here at the beginning of the season. So far I’ve received kale, collards, mustard greens, beet greens, spinach, lettuces, bok choy, totsoi, radishes, turnips, beets, green onions and sugar snap peas. I’m sure there have been some other things that I can’t bring to mind at the moment. As the season progresses I can look forward to tomatoes, beans, squash, corn, eggplant, watermelon; a myriad of products, even some cut flowers!
The array of greens I’ve been receiving has provided me with some enjoyable culinary challenges, which I suspect will continue throughout the season. I’ve used CSA products in both the Greens and Quinoa Pie and Gingery Quinoa Salad recipes that I recently posted. I never would have found either delicious recipe had I not been looking for ways to incorporate some of my CSA riches. I really enjoy working with new and different foods and have enjoyed experimenting with the contents of each week’s box. Seeing what’s in there is like opening a weekly gift!
If you are interested in joining a CSA, check the Local Harvest website, and Google CSA for your area. Keep in mind that many CSAs will prorate the season so, if they still have shares available, they will happily sell you one for the balance of the season. Here in east Tennessee, I can expect to receive my shares until the first week of October so there is plenty of season left.
Some farms have workdays where shareholders can come out to the farm and pitch in. Others have open house days where you can come and have a tour. Many farms have a website and several post the crops you can reasonably expect to receive throughout the season. Do your homework so you have no surprises. My particular CSA requires that I pick up my share before noon on Saturday at the local farmer’s market. Other than sending someone else to pick up my share, if I’m not able to make the pickup, my share for that week is lost. That can be a little inconvenient if I plan to be out of town on a Saturday but it hasn’t proved to be a hardship so far.
Other than watermelons, my farm doesn’t produce any fruit. Additionally, I use a lot of onions and garlic when I cook so joining a CSA hasn’t done away with trips to the produce department but it has certainly cut them down drastically.
For me, the opportunity to support a local family farm and the ability to eat locally grown, seasonal produce has made the CSA experience a positive one!
Mary is navigating her way through midlife and documenting it at http://www.simplyforties.com, where she writes about personal finance, relationships, grown children, the environment and social responsibility. In the summer of 2009 she sold her house and most of her possessions and embarked on an adventure as a full-time housesitter.