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Joining a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Program by John

by Prince Of Petworth May 20, 2010 at 1:30 pm 20 Comments

Week 3 of the Licking Creek Bend fall 2009 CSA share included Apples, Hot Peppers, Quince, Butternut Squash, Potatoes, Kohlrabi, and Ornamental Squash – plus greens

John Reinhardt is an urban planner, writer, photographer, and urban gardener. An avid cook, John is interested in the intersection of urban design, sustainability, and food systems planning. He currently resides in Washington DC and works for the American Planning Association. He currently writes Grown in the City, a blog about urban gardening and food systems planning.

So maybe you don’t have the time, space, or inclination to start your own urban garden, but still have the desire for fresh, high-quality local food.  And wouldn’t it be great to skip the lines at Giant, have your shopping for the week done in five minutes, and simultaneously support the local food systems economy?  There’s an option – Community Supported Agriculture.

From the USDA:

Community supported agriculture (CSA) is a new idea in farming, one that has been gaining momentum since its introduction to the United States from Europe in the mid-1980s. The CSA concept originated in the 1960s in Switzerland and Japan, where consumers interested in safe food and farmers seeking stable markets for their crops joined together in economic partnerships.

In basic terms, CSA consists of a community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation so that the farmland becomes, either legally or spiritually, the community’s farm, with the growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the risks and benefits of food production. Typically, members or “share-holders” of the farm or garden pledge in advance to cover the anticipated costs of the farm operation and farmer’s salary. In return, they receive shares in the farm’s bounty throughout the growing season, as well as satisfaction gained from reconnecting to the land and participating directly in food production. Members also share in the risks of farming, including poor harvests due to unfavorable weather or pests. By direct sales to community members, who have provided the farmer with working capital in advance, growers receive better prices for their crops, gain some financial security, and are relieved of much of the burden of marketing.

So where do you find a CSA?  Local Harvest has a fantastic website that provides information about different CSA models, and provides links directly to CSA’s in your area, based on your ZIP code.  I’m a member of Licking Creek Bend Farm, and help support the efforts of a great guy, Michael Tabor.  I get to chat with him each Saturday morning when I go pick up “my box” in Adams Morgan, at the market on 18th and Columbia.  He gives me the inside info on which apples are the best, or how to prepare the kohlrabi that’s in the box.  This past week, they ran a farm tour for subscribers, and they do a Halloween pumpkin patch tour for kids.  As the USDA says, it’s like having a community farm next door, only your farmer neighbor lives in Pennsylvania.  It’s relatively inexpensive as well – each week I got a box of farm-fresh produce (and apple cider in the fall) for what amounted to about $40 a week.  I felt good knowing where my money was going, and where my food was coming from – a true local economy.

Continues after the jump.

Week 3 of the Licking Creek Bend fall 2009 CSA share included Tomatillos, Broccoli, Lettuce, and Kale.

Michael has introduced me to kohlrabi, pak choi, and quince – items I wouldn’t have tried on my own (or can’t find in the supermarket).  One of the questions I always hear when I tell people I belong to the CSA is “I heard you get a lot of kale.  What do I do with all that kale?”  While this isn’t entirely true (at least from my CSA), you do receive a lot of items, all at one time, that you may not know what to do with.  In that vein, my colleague Kim Hodgson started her own blog about cooking from a CSA box.  We both subscribed to the same farm, and each week, we wrote about what we made from the same CSA box.  The results were interesting, and gave us each ideas about how to creatively “use all those greens.”

More info on CSAs can be found here.

Ed. Note: We also spoke of CSAs here and here.

  • mike

    I enjoy the choice of shopping. The same stuff is at a farmer’s market if you can go. I Tried a CSA but they gave a lot of lettuce. Not a fan of lettuce; would have rather gotten “a lot of kale”! Going to the farmer’s market I can get the amount of kale I want. I thought I’d spend less at the market with a CSA but that didn’t happen. Maybe it was the farm, but I wasn’t impressed with my CSA

  • Well taken point, Mike! But can I suggest that you shop around for a farm and farmer that you like. Our farmer, Mike, sent out a survey at the end of the season asking what we liked, didn’t like, and what we wanted planted next year. The results? Less radishes! Less hot peppers! It was pretty clear that they listened, as they will be rotating those crops (they had a bumper crop of radishes and hot peppers that was unexpected, they said).

    Also, Michael would often bring baskets of conventional carrots, beets, and greens and say “take as much as you want” (the benefit of going early to pick it up). One weekend I made enough ginger-carrot soup and borsch to freeze for several weeks.

    The best part about the CSA is creating a relationship with a farmer. If you request more of something and less or something else, they may be willing to accomodate.

    But as you say, it’s nice to be able to choose! Check out Kim’s post (www.cultivatingsustainability/csa) – she talks about a different model – one where you spend $300 up front, then “shop” online during the week and they have the box waiting for you on Saturday. That CSA also has milk, eggs, and meat.

  • Kim

    Mike – Star Hollow Farm has done an amazing job of merging the concept of CSA and farmers’ market. They use an online farmers’ market system where you can order the CSA harvest box, a la carte items, or both. Here’s my blog post on the concept: http://cultivatingsustainability.com/2010/01/16/starhollowfarm/.

  • WDC

    I loathe kale. It’s the whole kale/chard/rabe element that has kept me from signing up for a CSA for all these years. Maybe if I get a pet rabbit one day…

  • Ha! I can’t say I blame you WDC. Check out Kim’s suggestion. There’s also ways to cook it that make it “better.” I’ve grown to love chard (more than kale or rabe) sauteed with some olive oil and chick peas.

  • anonymous

    Do you have any info on licking creek bend farm? the local harvest page doesn’t really have any info/is out of date, but i’d love to find a CSA that does a pickup in the adam’s morgan-mt pleasant-columbia heights area that’s still selling shares – anyone have any suggestions?

  • cookietime420

    “Licking creek bend farm?” So many sophmoric jokes are swirling through my head right now.

    I think CSA’s are great. I was a member here for a number of years and loved it, particularly since they delivered to my office.

    Since then my schedule and the hassle of picking up food every week led me to sign up with http://www.southmountaincreamery.com
    The advantage here is that they deliver to your door and you can pick and choose what you want every week. I’ve also heard about http://www.arganica.com but haven’t tried them.

    Bottom line is that there are various ways to get access to local food and the options are growing.

  • Resident

    Another idea: join with a friend and share the produce/cost. Plus, that way I can eat all the kale while you eat all the carrots. And I can still go out to eat without feeling guilty about excess vegetables rotting.

  • Kim

    Here’s more information about Licking Creek Bend Farm (http://cultivatingsustainability.com/2010/01/30/licking-creek-bend-farm/). And, Star Hollow Farm may be accepting new members (http://www.starhollowfarm.com/) – they deliver to 18th & Columbia on Saturday mornings.

  • anonymous

    Thanks!! I’m going to try to find Licking Creek on Saturday and talk to them at the market about their CSA since I don’t see a way to sign up online. Star Hollow looks great and has a magical website but they’re full for this season.

  • I agree, “Resident”! Many of the CSA’s allow you to sign up as “Shares” (2 people) or “Families” (4 People). Then you can parcel out the food as you see fit.

    To your point, cookietime – yes, local food options are growing, and that’s a great thing. Look at all the food I got for $40 bucks. It’s healthy, fresh, in good condition, and I’ve helped the livelihood of the people who grew it.

    I’ve heard a lot of people say local and organic food is “too expensive”, but dollar for dollar, this is a pretty good deal. Some farmer’s markets and CSA’s (such as Licking Creek Bend – yes, it’s a funny name) even accept food stamps and vouchers.

  • Anyone know anything about Norman’s Farm Market?

    This is my first year trying a CSA. I signed up for their 8-week spring season since it was a lot cheaper and a lot less commitment than signing up for a full season with some other places ($120 for a half share for 8 weeks). The way I think about it, I probably spend at least $15 if not more on produce at the regular grocery store each week, so if nothing else I will break even. And I’ll have supported some of the local guys.

    I am really curious to see what I will get. I’m fairly adventurous and love to try new vegetables, so for me this is a great excuse to try some new recipes. There will probably be another guest post in it as well for me!

    • JS

      i used Norman’s last year, but have switched to Star Hollow. Mainly I just didn’t like going out to Silver Spring. They do have a nice option where they give you a container for certain veggies another for fruit and then the option of something bigger. You kind of make your own box each week based on how much you can fit in each container.

  • jcm

    Anyone have experience with Washington’s Green Grocer? The sell local produce during the summer, and are very flexible. You don’t get the relationship with a farmer, but it seems like much less of a commitment, and they deliver all year long.

  • andy

    The whole CSA thing sounds like a cult.

    I just had to say that.

    Though I like veggies.

  • MK

    Yes @jcm, I just started Green Grocer on the recommendation of a PoP contributor after reading a similar thread about this subject. I love it. I just order for one person so a small box (about 13″x 20″) suits me just fine. I have “on demand” delivery so I only get a delivery when I request one. My orders average $37 – $41 because I often order extras from their pantry like honey, eggs/bread, fresh herbs, etc. Normal price for a small box is $31.50.

  • jcm

    Thanks MK! I’m going to give them a try.

  • DCAC

    We totally love Washington’s Green Grocer JCM! Best part is that they deliver to your house…after all if I had time to go pick up a box from somewhere, I would just go to the farmer’s market! I love that you can opt out of anything every week, and that you can add on eggs, milk, cheese and other yummies. It’s not completely local, only during the local growing season, but they carefully select their produce all year round. I thought the winter selection was great, even if it was coming from south america or wherever.

  • new hampy

    my suggestion is to get in contact with farmer mike at http://www.earthspringcsa.com this is my first time joining a csa and he’s been really helpful and patient in walking me through the process. i’m so excited for the season to begin!

  • Jeff Lichtbalz

    Thank you for this valuable information!


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