community supported agriculture
February 3, 2005 1:16 PM   Subscribe

Community Supported Agriculture : Are you a city-dweller and tired of the wilted lettuce leaves your local grocery store considers a produce department? Looking for a way to support your local farmers while benefiting from great, fresh, often organic, in-season fruits and vegetables? Now is the time to find a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm. You buy a share (costing anywhere from $100 $600 early in the year), and every week throughout the growing season, your share pays you dividends. Here's a list of what you'd have gotten from one near me had you subscribed last year.
posted by crunchland (34 comments total)

 
As one site I saw puts it, there are two downsides to these sorts of plans ... one is that most cooks here in america shop by a recipe. They decide what they want to make, and then shop for the ingredients. With this sort of plan, you get a bunch of stuff, and you have to figure out what to do with it all. The second downside is that you'll end up getting stuff you've never had before -- which isn't really that bad. And the farmers will probably provide items you're really not used to seeing in the markets. One plan I read about boasted that they planted 20 different varieties of tomatoes last season.

Now is the time to get in on this sort of thing. Many have waiting lists. Contact your local farmer today!

There is another site with, presumably, lots of information on this subject -- http://www.csacenter.org. but the site appears to be way, way down at the moment. Also, Previously discussed on Metafilter in 2001.
posted by crunchland at 1:17 PM on February 3, 2005


I love my current CSA group and have found that getting a great variety of veggies is a great inspiration for coming up with new dishes.

The downside for me is that when I'm not getting shares, the produce from the local fruit and veg markets looks so disappointing.
posted by ursus_comiter at 1:28 PM on February 3, 2005


With this sort of plan, you get a bunch of stuff, and you have to figure out what to do with it all. The second downside is that you'll end up getting stuff you've never had before -- which isn't really that bad.

This doesn't have to be a downside. It is a great way to improve both your cooking skills and learn how to efficiently stock a kitchen. Get yerself a copy of Larousse Gastronomique or some other all-purpose guide to cooking, and have an adventure each week when your haul arrives.

Note that most CSA plans bring you enough food to feed several people each week, so if you're cooking for one you may need to find someone to split the cost/produce with.
posted by casu marzu at 1:31 PM on February 3, 2005


How does the distribution work? I can see that being a potential weak spot, if I have to drive far to a farm or someone else has to ship or drive far to me. Either way sounds expensive if each farm has a spread-out network of consumers.
posted by Triplanetary at 1:39 PM on February 3, 2005


this produce--its delivered to you?
posted by Fupped Duck at 1:41 PM on February 3, 2005


The group I belong to is in Manhattan. The produce is delivered to a distribution point and members pick up their share from there once a week. I picked my current group for maximum locational convenience.

During the season, I'm also expected to man the distriubtion point at least once.
posted by ursus_comiter at 1:46 PM on February 3, 2005


this produce--its delivered to you?

In West Philadelphia, at least, you visit one of the several drop-off points for your order. Mine's about three blocks up the street.
posted by AlexReynolds at 1:50 PM on February 3, 2005


that's really cool. i hadn't heard of this before. apparently there's quite a few in my neck of the woods.
posted by blendor at 1:54 PM on February 3, 2005


My SO is in one in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago. We pick up the veggies at the local Quaker house. In my experience, there's just too much for a two-person household: you end up with rotting leafy veggies during the summer and enormous piles of root veggies in the fall. We're going to split the box with another apartment this year.
posted by goatdog at 1:58 PM on February 3, 2005


My partner and I usually can go through everything pretty efficiently if we're diligent. It helps that we're vegetarians.
posted by ursus_comiter at 2:11 PM on February 3, 2005


I live in a hippie commune (errr... "co-op house") and we get these things every year. Our CSA farm is organic, too. If I was living on my own, I could imagine that a lot of the stuff that comes each week would go to waste. But, when somebody in your house is cooking for 10 people every night, a crate full of weird veggies every week is about the best thing ever.

With produce, it isn't SUCH a big deal if you buy it direct from the farmer, IMO, if you can buy the same stuff from a locally-owned grocery store instead. But, if this is your only alternative to buying canned soup from Wal-Mart, not only will you be eating better (and probably cheaper) by purchasing a CSA share, but you will have done your fellow wo/man a great service by giving your money back to your own community, rather than transnational big business.
posted by rockabilly_pete at 2:14 PM on February 3, 2005


We had a group in Seattle called Pioneer Organics that would actually drop a box of oprganic food off at our doorstep twice a month. Not all of it was locally grown, though a lot of it was, but it was all organic. They also included recipes so people who didn't know how to do anything with, for example, kale, could know they'd have at least one recipe that included it. Their website has even more.
posted by jessamyn at 2:19 PM on February 3, 2005


We participate in one (Bryson Farms) where the produce is delivered to our house. A bit more expensive, but very convenient. We've become a pseudo distribution point for some friends though, since a 4-share is much less than twice the price of a 2-share.
They provide year-round delivery (greenhouses) and recipes for some of the more exotic veggies too.

Personally, I try to buy both local and organic, but I'll choose local over organic when pressed. I haven't done the analysis, but buying lettuce that has been shipped 2000 km doesn't seem too efficient.
posted by RecalcitrantYouth at 2:20 PM on February 3, 2005


my other favorite thing about the service we had was that you could put one or two veggies/fruits on the "I never want to see this" list so they would do substitutions. So if you really hated something that was a bit more common [like cabbage, my personal nemesis] you could get your box delivered without it.
posted by jessamyn at 2:41 PM on February 3, 2005


Here's a list of CSA's in Canada for anyone that is interested.
posted by purephase at 2:41 PM on February 3, 2005


My CSA newsletter included recipes for the prominent vegetables each week. (I no longer have the transit to get to the box dropoff.) Also, you could choose a size of small, medium, or large, with the small box containing mostly easily-prepared, snackable foods. I would recommend them (Terra Firma Farm) for anyone in the SF Bay Area. There are plenty of other good ones around here too.
posted by expialidocious at 3:25 PM on February 3, 2005


I highly recommend signing up with a CSA type service. It's one of the best things you can do for yourself and the earth. Subscribing helps the farmer's stay in business, helps expand the land devoted to organic farming, and cuts down on pollutants.

Here's a few things to consider:
Do you want them to drop off at your house (usually costs a bit more) or is it fine for you to pick up at a central location?

Do you prefer getting a broader range of produce like Pioneer Organics or The Box, or would you prefer having a stronger connection to the farm that grows your food and going with a more traditional CSA.

Some CSAs are more flexible in allowing you to determine what you want in your box. Some CSAs let you subscribe every other week.

I use Eatwell (in the SF Bay Area). Their food is great and they are a great crew. They are going to be offering genuine free-range chicken eggs to their subscribers this year.
posted by f5seth at 3:58 PM on February 3, 2005


I'm lucky enough to live near my (beloved) CSA in Western Massachusetts and I get to go pick straight from the fields and choose which veggies to fill my share. There is no comparison in taste - even with expensive organics from Whole Foods. They distribute to five sites in Boston, but due to their popularity there are are no shares left for 2005. Get on the waiting list now. It's worth it.
posted by trii at 4:00 PM on February 3, 2005


As MeFi's resident organic vegetable farmer, I should point out that my system combines the benefits of the farmers' market (ability to purchase only the vegetable you need in the quantities you need) with the benefits of a CSA (convenient pick-up point, relationship between farmers and community of customers, etc.): the Locally Grown Cooperative.

I've been invited to speak at three sustainable agriculture conferences around the country in the last year about our system, and I can't tell you how many times I've been told that this is "going to change everything". We'll see -- the software toolset I've put together to run the thing should available for use around the country in time for the 2006 growing season.

In the meantime, if you're interested in finding locally grown produce, whether from a CSA, farmers' market, or whatever, scoot on by to localharvest.org.
posted by ewagoner at 4:03 PM on February 3, 2005


"...often organic..."

What, is my carrot going to be made of silicon?
posted by Captaintripps at 4:22 PM on February 3, 2005


organically-grown, wise guy.
posted by crunchland at 4:29 PM on February 3, 2005


So it grows with carbon? :p (I hate the term organic, if you couldn't tell.)
posted by Captaintripps at 4:34 PM on February 3, 2005


I did this a few years ago, but as a commuter it was nearly impossible for me to get to the pick up point each week. Also, it was too much food for me and I wasn't able to find someone reliable to split it with.

I really liked the idea, and it was great to feel involved with my local organic farm. I just wish there had been more flexibility in the choices, quantity and times. If they had done it as a gift certificate and charged me for, say, $20 worth of purchases at their farm stand each week that would've been perfect.
posted by cali at 5:50 PM on February 3, 2005


There are dozens in my area. All of them appear to be organic growers and nearly all of them allow you to pick up the produce either at their farms or at our local farmer's market (which is THE place to be around here every Wednesday and Saturday). What I really like about the CSA system, besides the produce itself and supporting local agriculture, is how many places understand the importance of making the on-farm pickup an experience. I like the idea of going there with my kids and letting them see farming up close and personal, see that we are a part of our community and the world at large, that what we eat doesn't exactly come from the earth pre-packed in cardboard or saran wrap. I think I'd much rather have to figure out how to fit turnips (ew) into my diet than continue shopping for veggies at Safeway.
posted by melixxa600 at 6:50 PM on February 3, 2005


I worked at a CSA in Belchertown, Massachusetts in 1996. There were three of us women - it was a neat experience doing lots of physical labor with other women. I made $50 a week and got a room in the barn for 45 hours of labor. (Of course, I didn't make enough to cover my bills so I also worked at... McDonald's. The contrast was, shall we say, quite striking).

I miss it, it was an incredible experience. I tried tons of vegetables I never would have otherwise. Eating edible weeds for a snack was fun!

Digging potatoes was one of the best parts - it's like opening presents at Christmas, you never know what you're going to get.

The smell of the fresh veggies was quite lovely, and I have to say our baby lettuce salad mix was the best salad I have ever eaten in my life, by far. CSAs are great!
posted by beth at 6:53 PM on February 3, 2005


Thank you so much for this thread, crunchland. I'd heard of CSAs but didn't have a clear idea how they worked. This is great info.
posted by mediareport at 8:13 PM on February 3, 2005


It is an unbelievable experience when you are challenged to use what you are given. Kohlrabi? Anise hyssop? Parsnip? Brussel sprouts on the stalk! I reccommend Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone the bible of local produce cooking, which has thorough descriptions of all vegetables in terms of origin, how to clean, prepare, and of course, use in many yummy recipies. My old CSA was the most amazing eating experience I have ever had. Illinois has some of the best soil in the world (along with the Ukraine, but it's too cold to use it there) so that probably helped.
posted by scazza at 9:43 PM on February 3, 2005


Three Roods Farm - my father's CSA in Michigan
posted by BinGregory at 5:14 AM on February 4, 2005


King's Hill Farm is excellent (Chicago area). They allow you to do special orders in addition (or instead of) your weekly share. They also do year-round, not just their own growing season. By far the best CSA we've found, and we shopped around a lot before joining their program.
posted by kat at 6:04 AM on February 4, 2005


We tried it -- the idea sounded great, but we were dissapointed:

The quality wasn't that great.
'Straight from the farmer' sounds good, but the quality was only average. How fresh was it? For all I know it sat for a week or more in a barn.

Selection was poor:
We were happy to see the more unusual items on the menu at first, but they were the same items all summer, so there wasn't much variety -- how much bok choy can you eat? It wasn't balanced: Lots of green leafy stuff, but not a lot of other things. Plus, they often ran out of items and replaced them on our order with yet more green leafy stuff.

Service was poor, and unprofessional. They took little responsibility for delivering the goods they promised (and that we paid for).

There are advantages to modern commercial agriculture: An incredible variety of food during all seasons (just walk into a decent supermarket), freshness, and, if you're willing to pay for it, quality. The supermarket had the resources to provide tomatos all summer; our CSA didn't.

Yes, there are pesticides, pollution, labor issues, political corruption, etc, and those issues may trump the benefits. We may use a (different) CSA this summer. But let's not pretend that small farmers deliver the goods just as well.
posted by guanxi at 6:21 AM on February 4, 2005


Sorry you had a bad experience, but to apply that to a blanket generalization that all small farms don't deliver the goods is grossly incorrect. I live in an area with an abundance of small farms. Some of them aren't very good, but the best ones offer produce which cannot be beat by any supermarket. At all. Period.

And, let's be honest here: year-round produce may be great for convenience, but it isn't for taste. Tomatoes are only really good at the end of the summer. Eating stuff out of season only inures you to lower quality food.
posted by casu marzu at 7:05 AM on February 4, 2005


I worked at a CSA in Belchertown, Massachusetts in 1996. There were three of us women - it was a neat experience doing lots of physical labor with other women. I made $50 a week and got a room in the barn for 45 hours of labor. (Of course, I didn't make enough to cover my bills so I also worked at... McDonald's. The contrast was, shall we say, quite striking).

Write the book! I would buy it.
posted by melixxa600 at 8:45 AM on February 4, 2005


There are advantages to modern commercial agriculture: An incredible variety of food during all seasons (just walk into a decent supermarket), freshness, and, if you're willing to pay for it, quality. The supermarket had the resources to provide tomatos all summer; our CSA didn't.

Look for a lot of these advantages to start disappearing. As the price of oil continues to rise the trucking heavy food luxuries are going to be less common or of lower quality or both. It blows me away that BC imports apples from New Zealand.

pesticides, pollution, labor issues, political corruption,

Maybe I'm just a tree hugger but these all seem much worse than a little lack of variety.

Thanks for the link purephase. Dangit they don't have one around Calgary even though they manage it in MB and SK. I'll have to ask around at the farmers market.

One advantage to this over growing your own is some crops require a lot of crop to grow successfully which requires more land than even large lot suburbs can provide. Something like corn ideally needs a dozen or so rows in a garden.
posted by Mitheral at 9:06 AM on February 4, 2005


I used a CSA in Pittsburgh last year and I liked it a lot. The one problem that I had was that I'm used to the picture-perfect, uniformly colored produce from the supermarket. Some of the veggies were misshapen, or had weird spots. My apples were kind of small and lumpy, and the lettuce sometimes had slugs living in it. The taste was fabulous (especially the blueberries), but I often had to cut around questionable spots and ask myself whether brown apples were okay to eat. I guess this is the price you pay for organic food.
posted by Alison at 11:17 AM on February 4, 2005


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