L to R: Red bell peppers, tomatoes, salad mix, radishes, chile peppers, kale, cucumbers, carrots, green beans, cherry tomatoes, watermelon.
Our CSA has begun its fall membership sign-up. Renewing members get a “loyalty” discount until the end of the month, and I will be taking advantage of that. It will help our CSA farmer begin her planning for next year’s growing season; if she knows how many members she will have next season, she can better decide how much of each vegetable to grow, and maybe add one or two new ones. Plus, the membership fee gets the cash flow going again, so she can place orders, plan maintenance of the farm, and pay bills.
This growing season has been full of uncertainty for local farmers. This was the first week our CSA had enough green beans to pick a pound, because deer and woodchucks wiped out the first green bean planting. Other farms have plenty of green beans. Some farms have been unable to grow corn or potatoes because they keep rotting in the ground. We haven’t had any potatoes at the CSA yet, and usually we have had by now. Yet there is a farm not far from my CSA that has great crops of corn and potatoes. Other crops that seem less plentiful than in past years are melons and squash. Farming methods, weather, soil condition, and location can all affect the success of a small farm.
CSA stands for “community-supported agriculture”. The basic model works like the CSA we belong to; members pay up front either in the fall or early spring, and, in return, receive a “share” of the produce the farm grows, usually weekly. There are variations from farm to farm; some allow (or require) members to help out on the farm in return for their share, some use a prepaid debit card that members use to shop at the farm as frequently as they like, until the card is empty. Most are vegetable-centered, but many also include fruits, flowers, dairy, meats, or baked goods. Depending on location, the share season is a few months long, or, can be all year long (my sister lives on the West Coast, and picks up a share weekly, throughout the year. Color me jealous.) The main catch is there is no guaranteed amount of produce. If the farm struggles for any of the mentioned reasons, or is just poorly managed, you may get little or no return on your “investment” in any given season.
You really do need to look at a CSA membership as an investment. Our shares have varied from year to year, in abundance and type of vegetable, and I adjust my meal planning accordingly. Flexibility is key, because you often don’t know what will be in your share until you pick it up. Most CSA shares feature a wide variety of vegetables, so if you were hoping to get your entire share all season in pounds of broccoli, think again. (Don’t laugh; this happened.) If your family is vegetable-challenged, or you are familiar with the preparation of only the most common grocery store vegetables, you might want to do some research/taste-testing in your kitchen to see if your family will enjoy a larger variety of vegetables.
Really, supporting a CSA is about more than the vegetables. Membership in CSAs promotes the growth of small, local farms, and provides communities with fresher, better-tasting fruits and vegetables than any supermarket chain. Keeping small farms in operation also helps prevent the sale of farmland to residential or industrial developers, maintaining open space and habitat for creatures great and small.
If you are intrigued or inspired at all by what I’ve said here, check out the local farm opportunities in your area, and consider joining a CSA. For more information, and to find a CSA near you, check out Local Harvest (link here). I’ll see you soon, on down the Road.