I know it may seem we are a little deep in the depths of winter to be thinking about next year’s gardening season.
But this is the perfect time of the year to think about how you are going to get the freshest produce for your family next year.
May I suggest a simple, local, and nutritious idea?
Give your local Community Support Agriculture (CSA) a try!
If you do not have the room, the time, or the inclination, for a garden your local CSA is a great alternative to grocery store produce…which travels an average of 1500 miles before coming to your local store!
A CSA works as a partnership between a local farmer and the community. A family buys a share of a farmer’s crop for the entire growing season. Early in the year (usually January – March) each member puts down a deposit for his share of the harvest. When the first harvest is ready the farmer contacts his shareholders to let them know that the season has begun. Each week throughout the growing season each member’s share of fruits and veggies are boxed or bagged up for member pick up.
What is offered at each pick-up will vary by the the season…like a surprise package each week!
The popularity of CSAs has been growing stronger each year as consumers are trying to avoid produce that has been shipped across the country (or world)…the desire for local and fresh has grown so strong that many CSAs fill up so quickly that you must sign up the first week shares go on sale!
When you are part of a CSA you make a connection with the farmer and other community members…you get to know the person that actually grows your food! With that you gain an appreciation for what it takes to grow the food…something that we just don’t think about when we pick up something from the produce aisle of the grocery store.
Many farmers offer newsletter that let their members know how the harvest is going, what is coming up each week and share recipes for using that weeks produce. Meeting and visiting with fellow members on pick-up day is also a great way to get ideas and share recipes and tips for using seasonal produce.
Before you decide to join a CSA there are a few questions to ask of the farmer…
Growing method. Does he/she use organic growing practices (realize that many that are organic farmers are not ‘certified’ as this process can be quite expensive and time consuming…with money and time both being precious commodities for small farmers many have not gone through with certification yet practice organic methods.
Fee. You can find each CSAs fee by checking its Web site or calling. Always ask what the fee covers and how much produce you can expect to receive. You might also be able to buy 1/2 a share if you are a small family or you can go in with another family.
Pick-up location. Since you will be picking up a box every week for many months make sure the pick-up sight if convenient…or consider sharing pick-up duties with another member, trading off week to week.
Foods Grown. Before decided on a CSA ask what type of produce they grow and what is to be expected throughout the season. Each farm has a different variety of fruits and veggies and many change from year to year.
Add-ons. Sometimes CSAs offer things like fresh cut flowers or herbs. Some offer extended seasons. Make sure to ask your local farmer about his add-ons to the regular share.
What-ifs. Since the weather is so closely tied to each growing season, make sure to ask what if a crop gets wiped out by hail. What happens when the tomatoes are wiped out by blight? Some farmers work with other farmers to get the missing produce, some substitute other items for those lost.
To find a CSA you can go to localharvest.com, ask at your local health food store, ask at the local farmers market if any of the farmers there offer CSA shares, or look for signs in your community.
It may be winter but that doesn’t mean we can’t think ahead to juicy tomatoes, crisp cucumbers and sweet bell peppers. If you want the freshest local fruits and vegges without the work…consider Community Supported Agriculture!