Some of us are complaining about holiday debt. Much of the North American population is bellyaching about the frigid temperatures. But for some of us, the worst part of this time of year is opening the fridge and finding that we have to actually go to the store to purchase vegetables.
Sure, we miss the food we grew in our garden. But honestly, between the kale overload, the dog eating all of my beautiful haricots verts, the tomatoes that didn’t get ripe enough, the peanuts that didn’t grow and the Brussels sprouts that (as usual) did not manage to finish their sprouty business before winter arrived, the garden was a bit of a drag.
What we are really lacking is the produce from our CSA, which overflowed our refrigerator from June through December.
That’s because last year, we joined a community-supported agriculture program that supplied our veggies from mid-June to mid-December. We’ve just signed up again, and I hope you’ll think about doing the same.
What is a CSA?
If you’re unfamiliar with CSAs, here’s the rundown. Community-supported agriculture is just as it sounds: The community supports an agricultural enterprise directly. Members of a farm’s CSA arrangement pay a subscription fee for a “share” (or a portion of a share) of the farm’s produce. Some CSAs require members to pick up produce at the farm. Others set up convenient locations where members collect their shares.
- Farmers benefit from having a predictable income stream, and gaining income that comes in before they have to start purchasing seeds and other supplies.
- Members benefit from paying ahead for their produce, obtaining local (and usually organic) produce nearly direct to their door. Usually, the price for the share is a fair deal — and sometimes it’s a great deal.
Joining now is a great idea
Ideally, CSA members pay the fee as early as possible, so that the farm can purchase seeds, equipment, hire employees, pay for insurance, and handle all the myriad expenses that go along with growing our food.
In the words of our CSA, Grant Family Farms:
This is a very important time for the farm, for when there is nothing to harvest, we have no cash flow, and with the CSA we have embarked on an attempt to become a sustainable farm model, a new chapter to the history of farming.
Here in Colorado, where our CSA is based, farmers are facing challenges heading into this growing season. Again from Grant Farms:
As you know we took a very direct hit this season with a very angry August hail storm. Thankfully, you all had patience and understanding as the crops recovered for a great bounty in the fall. To make a long story short, with the hail storm and the devastatingly strong winds in October, blowing much of our corn harvest to the ground, Grant Family Farms had a very bad year and are in need of cash flow to start buying seeds, making payroll, fixing tractors and all that goes into growing food.
This farm is absolutely not alone. In Colorado, 24 counties received a disaster designation following these storms. Tornadoes, dry weather, wet weather and all kinds of unexpected conditions dashed farmers’ hopes around the world. It’s part of being a farmer. And by joining a CSA, you can share the risk — and the joy — of growing and enjoying local food.
What will you get?
We chose a small or half share of produce. Each week, we picked up a large, reusable plastic box (or emptied its contents into our own bags).
Inside we found a variety of items. I detailed our first CSA pickup here. It was our skimpiest; in Colorado in June, without greenhouse conditions, the pickings are slim (most often including lettuce, radishes, possibly peas, and spring onions).
Throughout the season, the selection expanded. In October, the heart of harvest season as Colorado farmers and gardeners hold their breath, hoping Jack Frost will wait, I wrote about putting some of our stash away.
Each week, I would estimate we received around 20 lbs. of produce. Toward the end of the season, boxes were even heavier, loaded down with weighty beets, enormous cabbage and a wide variety of winter squash.
The cost breakdown: Less than $1 per pound!
And we didn’t even receive the peppers and tomatoes we had hoped for, because they were demolished by the brutal hailstorm. Better luck in 2009 is likely.
What can you do with it?
- Of course, you can eat it!
- We had extra veggies many weeks, and we happily shared bits and pieces: kale and corn to a neighbor, cabbage and greens to my massage therapist, parsley to my mother-in-law’s bunnies, cauliflower to my knitting group’s fearless leader, and a variety of goodies to our parents.
- We also put a lot of it away. We cooked and froze cauliflower, sliced corn off the cob and froze it, chopped and blanched and froze spinach and kale.
- From our basement laundry room/root cellar, we have been gradually working our way through potatoes, cabbage, squash and onions.
What it means for us this year
This year, we plan to grow our own garden differently. We’re going to grow just for fun:
- The tomatoes we love.
- A tomatillo for salsa.
- Some jalapenos.
- Our fruit trees.
- Lettuce and radishes in the spring, before the CSA is operating.
- My beloved okra.
- And a few things we’ve heard of but never tried.
Join Grant Family Farms
If you are on the Colorado Front Range and are interested in joining the Grant Family Farms CSA, you can sign up here.
They offer all kinds of goodies:
- 26 weeks of great organic vegetables
- 5% off every share paid in full by Feb. 28
- 5% off shares PLUS a free T-shirt AND a free canvas tote bag if paid in full by Jan. 31
- Full, half and single shares and the opportunity to split shares with a friend or neighbor to accommodate all household sizes
- Or the opportunity to put down a deposit now and finish paying later
- A great annual party for all CSA members at the farm
- Opportunity to purchase meat, egg, flower and fruit shares — or whatever they come up with this year!
I can assure you from our experience this year that Grant Farms has a fabulous, generous spirit. We received unexpected goodies including a bottle of their own wine, a holiday evergreen wreath and samples of fruit preserves from their fruit share partners. YMMV, but it was fun to be surprised.
If you do join Grant Farms, please mention that you heard about them here!
Find a CSA
If you are one of many readers outside this area, and/or if you want to check out all your options, there are many ways to find the perfect CSA near you. Try these avenues:
- Local Harvest allows visitors to input their ZIP code to view a list of CSAs near them.
- The US Department of Agriculture offers an “alternative farming systems information center” that includes information about CSAs and resources to find participating farms.
- Or simply Google “find a CSA” with your state and see what you find.
Some CSAs specialize in staples, some in exotic produce. Some ask you to commit to working on the farm; others offer working shares as an option for those who can’t afford to join.
Whatever option you choose, a CSA is a great way to truly put your heart — and your dollars — behind local agriculture.