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Farm-Fresh Produce, Without the Farm
Generations ago, most people had at least a garden, so when they wanted fresh food, they picked it themselves. That’s no longer true, but the lack of your own green space doesn’t mean you can’t have food that is fresh off the farm.
For the last few decades, Community-Supported Agriculture, or CSA, has created a direct partnership between farmers and consumers that leaves out the supermarket and other middlemen. At its most basic, consumers buy shares in a farmer’s production. Those shares usually are a predetermined amount of vegetable produce that the farmer raises, although some CSA farmers include other items such as meat, fruit, honey and flowers. The farmer delivers the produce to his shareholders throughout the growing season.
The main benefit for the farmer is that he makes some money up-front to help defer the costs of putting in his crops. He also does much of his marketing before the growing season begins, and he is spending most of his time in the fields. The benefit for consumers is that they get fresh-from-the-farm taste and nutritional value in their food.
There are some considerations, of course. If a particular crop is decimated by weather or pests, the consumer might not get the produce he wants. In that sense, the consumer in the city is tied in a tangible way to the farmer in the country. A CSA arrangement can be especially great for kids, because it helps them understand where food comes from and how it grows.
Just as the consumer shares in the farmer’s poor harvests, he also shares in the good harvests. As anyone who ever has had a garden knows, you can end up with a whole lot of one or two kinds of vegetables, until you feel like you never want to see a tomato or a zucchini or a pepper again.
There are different kinds of CSA arrangements. In the most basic, the farmer makes up a box of whatever is ripe for each member. Some farmers let members request certain produce, or they bring all their produce to a central location and let members choose what they want.
If you are interested in a CSA arrangement, there are some things to consider. First, you get the crops that are ready at that time. You will not get peppers in January, or even in May. Your produce will be seasonal, and you might get some things you are not used to eating. But that can be part of the fun of the experience, as you learn to cook with unfamiliar vegetables.
Be realistic about how much produce you are likely to eat. If you rarely cook, for example, a CSA is probably not a good idea for you. If you live alone or with one other person, make sure that the amount of food you get will not overwhelm you.
Know where you have to go to get the produce. Sometimes you have to travel to the farm, and other times the farmer brings the boxes to a central location. And know what happens if you are on vacation or otherwise unable to pick up your produce.
If you decide to sign up, you can find a CSA near you at LocalHarvest.org; click on CSA under “What are you looking for?” and fill in your Zip code. The site also has information about family farms and farmer’s markets.