Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)

Community Supported Agriculture
If you've been thinking about signing up for a CSA but want to learn more about the idea before you commit, read on. Over the last 20 years, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) has become a popular way for consumers to buy local, seasonal food directly from a farmer. Here are the basics: a farmer offers a certain number of "shares" to the public. Typically the share consists of a box of vegetables, but other farm products may be included. Interested consumers purchase a share (aka a "membership" or a "subscription") and in return receive a box (bag, basket) of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season.

It's a simple enough idea, but its impact has been profound. Tens of thousands of families have joined CSAs, and in some areas of the country there is more demand than there are CSA farms to fill it. The government does not track CSAs, so there is no official count of how many CSAs there are in the U.S. Local Harvest has the most comprehensive directory of CSA farms, with over 2,500 listed in their grassroots database.

As you might expect, farmers have begun to introduce variations. One increasingly common one is the "mix and match," or "market-style" CSA. Here, rather than making up a standard box of vegetables for every member each week, the members load their own boxes with some degree of personal choice. The farmer lays out baskets of the week's vegetables. Some farmers encourage members to take a prescribed amount of what's available, leaving behind just what their families do not care for. Some CSA farmers then donate this extra produce to a food bank. In other CSAs, the members have wider choice to fill their box with whatever appeals to them, within certain limitations. (e.g. "Just one basket of strawberries per family, please.") My son, who lives in New York, belongs to this type of CSA.

My daughter, here in St. Paul, belongs to Earth Dance Farm's CSA (http://www.earthdancefarm.net). She gets a box of produce delivered to her home each week. Earth Dance Farm is 80 acres of land in southeastern Minnesota. No pesticides, herbicides or synthetic fertilizers are used in the production of their produce, vegetables (including horseradish and artichoke), grapes and eggs.

The first week's box of fresh produce was delivered as promised, carefully packed with the following assortment:
* Honey
* Strawberries
* Romaine Lettuce
* Cilantro
* Arugula
* Swiss Chard
* Dill
* Broccoli Raab
* Spinach
The first delivery may be a little lighter than the deliveries later in the summer, when the harvest is more abundant. CSA is a wonderful way to provide your family with the best and freshest produce available.

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