It's hard to believe, with several feet of snow on the ground here, that it's time to start thinking about spring vegetables. But it's true. If you're interested, now is the time to research and find a CSA, because before we know it, ramps will be popping up out of the ground.
Admittedly, when it comes to CSA's, we're pushers. We've belonged to one for three years now and have really enjoyed the experience. From May to November, if we're writing about cooking with vegetables, we're typically telling you that we got them from our CSA.
For the uninitiated, CSA is short for "Community Supported Agriculture." This typically means that individuals subscribe to the farm and receive a weekly shipment of vegetables.
In our case, this means that we get a weekly share from Clagett Farm, part of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. One night each week, for 26 weeks a year, the farm sets up in a parking lot near our neighborhood where we go to pick up our share our vegetables.
We've found that in our neck of the woods, getting into a CSA for the first time can be fairly competitive, so it's best to go ahead and try to find yours now (or get on a waiting list) before membership opens.
So how do you go about finding a CSA? And if you're considering joining one, what do you need to know beforehand?
- It can be unpredictable. With our CSA, we never know what we'll be getting until the day of the delivery. This is something that we've actually come to enjoy after three years. Yes, it makes it harder to plan weekly meals, but there's also a Top Chef-y, "What in the world are we going to do with all these garlic scapes" aspect of it that can be a lot of fun. (The answer on the garlic scapes, by the way, is pesto.)
- You will likely have to buy vegetables in addition to your share. Our CSA doesn't cover all of our produce needs. We don't, for instance, get onions. And we get very little fruit in our share. And at the beginning and end of the season, shares can be lean. This is something you should consider when weighing the costs involved.
- You may get some vegetables that you'll have to learn to love. In our first year in the CSA, we nearly drowned in eggplant. We had virtually no experience cooking it beforehand and only had a few recipes we really enjoyed it in. There was so much of it that to this day, we still clip decent-sounding eggplant recipes, just in case next year is eggplant-heavy. If you're getting too much of any one thing, we're sure you can find a friend who will take it off your hands.
- Your experience can vary wildly season to season. Farming is a gamble. Weather and disease can make one CSA season virtually unrecognizable from previous years. Two years ago we were swimming in tomatoes and even tried our hand at canning tomatoes. Last year, with the blight hitting this area hard, there were barely any tomatoes. It's fairly unpredictable.
- CSA's have varying models and rules. One CSA in our area allows you to pick and choose your produce online and only in the weeks that you want it. Ours allows you to skip a week and then double your share the following week. Ours also allows u-pick each week, posting the items that are available to the listserv.
- Check out Local Harvest's CSA Directory, a searchable database of CSAs from across the U.S.
- If you don't find what you're looking for at Local Harvest, check out The Farm Locator by the Rodale Institute. Its scope is a bit wider than the Local Harvest directory and includes business-to-business resources.
- If neither of these produce what you're looking for, we would suggest asking for advice at your local farmers market. Farmers are in the know and will likely be able to point you toward a CSA.
And finally, if you'd like to see what our CSA share looked like, you can visit these FlickR albums where we've documented our weekly haul over several years. WARNING: there's a lot of veggie porn here!