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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Idea Note Books, Remembrance Shadow Boxes, Edible Centerpiece & A Yummy Romaine & Bacon Salad!

I love photographing my gardens, both veggie and flower. I take photos of them at each stage so I know what I need to fill in, get rid of, thin out or re-do.  As I page through my garden journals, it is so interesting to see how the beds have matured, changed and been redone over time.  To be able to go back and see each season and where I need to add, thin out or add an element to hard scapeing an area helps in future planning & budgeting.  I always think that I need more in the spring, for some reason I have never been able to be satisfied with my spring garden’s. Shall I say they are always a work in progress~ slow, steady progress!  I use an Idea Notebook as one way to keep track of all the wonderful idea’s I see as I drive past a lovely yard or see something ‘neatsy’ at a greenhouse/nursery.  I keep this in my purse so I can simply take it out and jot down the idea.  I also like to keep my camera along with me so I can photograph anything of interest. This is how my mailbox came to be.  I had driven past this super cute mailbox that had bird houses hand painted on it. I took some photographs, bought a new mail box, a really big one, and replicated the images onto my own. Now I too have a super cute mailbox! I am too forgetful to remember everything I like and would like to eventually do.  I love my gardening magazines and often find all sorts of neat ideas that I would like to do.  I don’t like ripping pages out of them so I will either photocopy them and then tape them in my idea notebook or journal. Be sure to include magazine name,  page number and date in which the idea/article was in!
Remembrance Shadow Boxes
are a beautiful heirloom for oneself or to give as a gift.  My dear mother in the Lord made one of these in memory of each of her parents after they passed away. She purchased the shadow boxes at a big box hobby store and then created what I believe are heirloom treasures.  They are done very scrapbook’ish with pretty paper on the back, almost looking like wall paper.  Then she incorporated several meaningful items in each that represented each parent.  The memorabilia are tacked onto the ‘wall’ with adhesive tape or small pins. Each contains their reading glasses, a photograph and several other items that.  So easy and yet simply stunning!

No table is quite done without a centerpiece. It creates a finished and homey atmosphere to the room. Whether it is a vase filled with in season flowers, a rooster statue, a candelabra or a bowl filled with fruit, it sets the stage to an inviting feeling. Edible plants are one way to create something very special.  To create a lovely Edible Centerpiece you first will need a container that you can set in the center~ indoor or out.  This can be a large, shallow Terra cotta or clay pot, an old fashioned wooden toolbox, an old drawer lined with plastic or a wicker basket lined with plastic so the dirt won’t flow out- the key is that there is proper drainage and that you have it resting in a container to catch water- especially if inside.  Personally I think these are most special on a patio or picnic table for outdoor enjoyment.
Here are a few choice plant combo’s:
*For a yummy Salad Bowl plant one of each in the corners if square container or an ‘x’ if round:  nasturtium~trailing preferably, a variegated lemon  thyme, Genovese basil and Italian Large leaf parsley; in center plant a romaine lettuce and spinach plant.  Please take into consideration the growth size of each plant and determine the size of your planter if it will accommodate this planting.   A 24″ in diameter pot would be recommended. 
*Herb Lovers~ try Genovese Basil, Lemon Basil, Italian Large Leaf parsley, tarragon and a thyme.  Whenever you are ready to grill you can snip off some to add into a butter for brushing on corn or shish-ka-bob.  Fresh snipped basil & parsley for yummy Brushetta, thyme for grilled squash or chicken and tarragon for fish!
The combo’s are really up to your taste buds, so be creative and let your taste buds soar!

Everyone loves our bacon, for what I believe to be very good reasons~ no nitrates or nitrites, no G.M.O. feed given to our hogs, naturally raised with open fresh air & sunshine.  Here is yet another way to serve up some of our bacon with our yummy heirloom Romaine lettuces!
Romaine & Bacon Salad

2 medium heads romaine lettuce from Garden Gate, chopped
1 red onion from Garden Gate, sliced thinly
1/2 pound bacon from Garden Gate
1 cup raw organic sugar
1 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup salted sunflower seeds
homemade croutons (see previous blog for recipe)

1. Arrange lettuce in a bowl and top with onions.
2.  Fry bacon in skillet over medium- high heat, cook bacon until crisp; drain.
3. Combine vinegar & sugar; pour over bacon in skillet; bring to a simmer over medium heat; cook and stir until sugar dissolves, about 3 minutes. 
4.  Pour mixture over lettuce and onion. Toss together to mix evenly; top with cranberries, seeds & croutons.
5. Serve immediately.
Enjoy! 

Happy Day,
Jean