What is a Community Supported Agriculture & How do I find one?

Ol’ man Simon, planted a diamond. Grew hisself a garden the likes of none. Sprouts all growin’ comin’ up glowin’ Fruit of jewels all shinin’ in the sun. Colors of the rainbow. See the sun and the rain grow sapphires and rubies on ivory vines, Grapes of jade, just ripenin’ in the shade, just ready for the squeezin’ into green jade wine.” -Shel Silverstein

As many of you may remember, my past life as an Organic Farmer was filled with busy days in the greenhouses, gardens, and with the animals. There is part of me that misses it all… yet there is another part of me that is simply grateful for the experience and lessons it taught me.

One of the things I loved most about my farm was our Community Supported Agriculture program AKA CSA. This is the time of year that many people begin looking for a CSA program for next year. That may seem strange to some… thinking about getting next summer’s produce, but from a farmer’s point of view, now’s the time.

I thought now would be a great time to share some tips on choosing a CSA, and what to look for when hunting down the perfect farm for you!

Many seed, greenhouse supply and agricultural companies offer substantial discounts to farmers for getting their orders in before the end of the year. This can mean substantial savings to farmers, especially beginning farmers. Not only that, but meat and dairy producers are looking at feed costs and amounts of livestock needed for the following season.

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Most farmers plan & place seed orders by the end of November. Plans for ordering next year’s Thanksgiving turkeys are being thought out right now as well. How many meat birds and laying hens will be needed to supply the demand the following year. Quantities of feed they’ll need to secure for their livestock is also a consideration. These are all important factors being considered by farmers as I write this. 

1. Types of CSA’s. Determine what you’re looking for before you go on the hunt. This will allow you to do custom Google searches. Here are a few of the more common types you may consider when starting your search.

There are many types of CSA’s including the typical veggies but some farms have what are referred to ‘add-on’s’. These can include fruit, flower, egg, meat, milk & dairy, and even coffee! Our farm offered a Spring, Summer, and Winter share with all of the above options with the exception of coffee.

2. Questions you will need to consider when deciding on the perfect CSA program for you. Does the farm meet your individual/family needs?

  1. Do you want organic products or is that not relevant to you? Does Organic certification make a difference?
    Pro Tip: My personal note here is, that it is important to know your farmer/producer. Organic certification is not geared to small, family run farms and can be very cost prohibitive to them.
  2. Do you want home delivery? Do you want to pick up at your local farmers market?
  3. What are all the delivery options?
  4. Does the potential farm have multiple share size options to fit your individual/family size? For example: full or half share, senior or single options.
  5. Do you want to participate in a work share program if that’s an opportunity? This would entail doing labor on the farm or market location in exchange for the food or discount off the share.

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6. Do you want to help support a small-family run farm, or a large multi-member farm?
7. Does the farm allow installment, accept credit card, offer discounts for full pay or an early bird discount?
8. How many share members does the potential farm allow each season? When is the cut off date? 9. Does the farm have a web site to view their products, farm photo’s, etc.?
10. Does it have a Facebook page where members can communicate between each other and their farmers?
11. Are you picky eaters? Do you cook? Do you ‘want’ to cook?

12. Does the farm have ‘customizable’ share options? Will you be able to swap out things you don’t care for?
13. Is it a pre-pack (shares packed and ready for pick up) or a U-Pack (You get to choose between specific items for your share)?
14. Does the potential farm have an on site farm stand?
15. Does the farm allow for visits? does it have a ‘field day’ where members are invited to attend?

With regards to this last item, I’d like to defend some farmers stand on this… being I was a farmer for almost 15 years.
Farmer’s have families and lives outside of their business life and it’s not always convenient to have people ‘popping’ in. I always suggested to the ‘curious’ potential members if they allowed their clients or customers to just pop into their homes unannounced? Suddenly the reality of the request became a little bit more realistic.  Most farmers aren’t trying to ‘hide’ anything, it’s simply a matter of privacy and having a life of their own. Also, many people don’t understand the dangers on a farm, especially around equipment and with children.  Additional insurance is required when allowing people to come onto the farm. So please don’t judge a farmer harshly just because they don’t offer ‘unannounced pop-ins’.

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3. Sources to find CSA programs. Here are a few reliable sources to begin your research.

http://www.localharvest.org/csa/

http://www.localdirt.com/

http://www.ecovian.com/csa

http://www.nal.usda.gov/afsic/pubs/csa/csa.shtml

If you have the opportunity to visit the potential farm/er at a local farmers market they participate in, I suggest you go early in the morning. Most members try to pick up their shares earlier and this would give you an opportunity to see how the farmers relate to their members. You’d also have the chance to talk to other members, which the farmers usually love. The members will be able to give you an actual ‘review’ of how they like the share and the farm/er.  You would be able to see the produce available and the additional things they offer, like meat, eggs, flowers, etc.

Finding a Community Supported Agriculture program that will fit your families or individual needs can be a challenge, but if you go on the hunt prepared and understanding what you’re looking for, it won’t be so daunting.

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Happy Day,
Jean

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