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Friday, March 8, 2013

community supported agriculture

It's that time again - time to start planning my summer garden and sign up for my CSA box.  That's what everybody does in March right?

For those of you thinking I actually just meant I'll be signing up for some cable box that lets me watch CSI 24/7 - here's a little more about CSAs.

Community Supported Agriculture is designed to connect farmers in need of stable livelihoods to urban dwellers in need of healthy, fresh produce.  Farmers sell "shares" of their produce, and city folks who buy the share receive a weekly box of vegetables throughout the growing season.  Urban folks invest at the beginning of the season in local farms, sharing in the risk and reward of a farmer’s harvest.  If the summer is good, there will be a large benefit to CSA members in the form of lots of delicious vegetables.  If there were say heavy rains, droughts, or a plague of locusts, the harvest will not be as good for farmers or for CSA members.  This also means that the amount of food reaching a CSA member will align with the season.  In the Midwest, the amount and size of food in a CSA box will be much larger in August than in June.  Regardless of how much or how little the CSA member receives, they still pay the same flat rate and the farmer will be guaranteed a livelihood.

This is the fourth year that I’ll be participating in a CSA program.  This year, Paul and I will be splitting a 26 week share through LotFotL (Living Off the Fat of the Land) Farm with three friends.  This farm is fairly progressive for a CSA program.  We can pay for our CSA throughout the season (with online payment options) and can opt out for weeks we may be on vacation.  We also have the option of paying a little extra to receive fresh eggs throughout the season.  The best part of the CSA is pick up day - when we get together with our friends to prepare and share a meal from that week's harvest.  It's community at it's finest!  

Here's a few tips for first time users: 
Pick a convenient pick up location.  Farms will offer a central pickup location where participants can pick up their CSA box each week.  Remember, you don't want to waste tons of energy just to pick up your vegetables each week.  It would be a drag for you and for the environment to have to travel long distances to get your food!
Find a farm that meets your needs.  Be realistic about how much vegetables you will eat.  No point in buying a box that feeds 4-6 people, if you'll only be cooking for 2.
Be aware of how long the season lasts.  Shares can vary in their length of time.  Some may be as short as 16 weeks while others may last for most of the year depending on your climate.
Be adventurous!  Your CSA share will most likely contain vegetables you've never seen before.  Many farms will include a weekly newsletter with ideas on how to cook the food in that week's share.  Try it out, you may be surprised at what new culinary delights await you!  
To find a CSA near you, check out Local Harvest's Community Supported Agriculture page.  There are explanations of CSAs and a zipcode search to help you find a farm close to you.  To sign up for a CSA box, pick a farm that feels right to you, and follow the instructions for applying for a share.  Then, once the season starts, get ready for a steady influx of delicious fresh food!

I'll be sharing photos from my CSA box throughout the summer.  Feel free to share yours too!

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