09 October 2008

Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA)


Tuesday was the last CSA pickup for the year. More than turning on the heat or watching the leaves turn color, this event marks the end of summer for me.

What is CSA? Community-supported agriculture is a great program that was introduced in the United States in the 1980s from Europe and Asia. Basically, a farm pre-sells shares of vegetables to a limited number of members. Each member pays the farmer a fee at the beginning of the year. In return, the members get a "market share" of produce each week of the growing season. What and how much you get depends on the farm and the weather. Cost for membership differs among farms as well.

But more than just getting fresh food, members guarantee the farmer a certain income each year, which helps keep the small farmer farming, which in turn helps keep green areas green. And, of course, the money paid into the farm stays local. The program is pretty much a winner for all involved and gives added benefits to the surrounding community.

A CSA is not a co-op. You do not have to work for your veggies and fruit -- that's what your dues are for. The only caveat is this: Members are also buying into the risk that the farmers take every year. So if it is a cold year or a flood year or a drought year, you won't get as much food as you will in a "perfect" year. For more on CSAs, including a database for finding a CSA near you, visit Wilson College's website here.

My CSA farm is organic, but not all such farms are. This week, I got winter squash, kale, Swiss chard, all kinds of peppers, red cabbage, apples, eggs (not pictured), all kinds of herbs, white potatoes, red potatoes, and sweet potatoes. Plus flowers and a nice-size pumpkin! If you'd like to see photos of or read about the farm I support, visit Full Circle Farms's website here.

One thing I particularly like is not knowing what I'm going to get each week. It's so much fun to pick up my food and then plan our week's meals around our vegetable share. We have an added bonus: Our pickup takes place at the local weekly farmers market, so I can buy any "fillers" right away.

The good news is that our local farmers have decided to try to start a year-round market. This is wonderful. There are several organic cheese producers and meat producers that I know will be at the winter market. There are a few great bakers as well. I'm hoping that there are enough greenhouse owners so that locally grown vegetables will find their way to our table throughout the winter.

As long as Full Circle Farms maintains their CSA program, we'll be members.

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