ashley englishsmall measures

small measures with ashley: CSA shares

by Grace Bonney

[image sources, clockwise from top left: sustainable flatbush, cookography, green upgrader, just braise, tiny farm blog, usmass vegetable]

When I was young, my grandmother, Ruby (more commonly known as “Nanny”), remarried, moved from her well-manicured home in the suburbs of Virginia Beach, VA to a bit of farmland in neighboring Chesapeake, and became the owner, along with her husband, of a small farm. The property came with an established blueberry orchard, which Nanny and Papa John turned into a modest U-Pick operation. There was a goat, Howard, who was completely insane. There were chickens, and dogs (Sadie and Pepper), a barn, and a big chestnut tree (I painfully remember falling into a gathered pile of its collected, prickle-clad nuts and getting them firmly lodged into the tights my 5 year-old self was wearing; many tears were shed that day). There was a tractor, and a pond (with the most amazing bullfrogs!), and lots of canning going on in the kitchen. Most importantly, there was a garden. It seemed enormous to me at the time, although it was probably in reality not nearly as vast as I recall it having been. In that garden, I unearthed, with my older brother, potatoes for the very first time. You’d have thought we’d found Blackbeard’s hidden treasure. We were so completely thrilled. I was hooked. If it come out of the ground and you could eat it, I wanted everything to do with it.

Gardening, of the fruit, vegetable, herbal, ornamental, and beyond persuasions, is now one of my favorite hobbies. I like doing it, reading about it, and being around other people who also want to read about it, do it, and talk about it. I love exploring farmer’s markets, friend’s backyard plots, and nurseries packed with growing things. I’m quite excited with the rise in gardening that has been occurring across the United States. From the garden on the White House lawn to Fritz Haeg’s Edible Estates movement (which works to replace front lawns and other unused green spaces with edible crops), people are returning to the soil.

Perhaps, though, you don’t have the time, or perhaps even the inclination, to grow your own food. Maybe you’re short on space or worried about killing off crops accidentally or finding things overcome by a blight or an infestation (it happens to all of us, eventually). You love the idea of eating locally grown produce, but you don’t know if you’re the one that should be growing it. For you, then, the solution can be found in today’s small measure-C.S.A. shares. C.S.A.’s are Community Supported Agriculture operations. In this situation, a consumer (you) pays a farmer a predetermined amount in advance of a growing season. As my farming friends Kevin Toomey and Christina Carter of neighboring Ten Mile Farm expertly describe it on their C.S.A. page , C.S.A. shares represent “A seasonal contract between the farmer and the members. You, as a member, purchase a share of the season’s harvest in advance. By purchasing a share in advance, you enable the farm to have the much needed collateral at the beginning of the season, when a majority of the spending happens all at once. We, as the farmers, commit to providing you with a weekly box of healthy, locally grown food throughout the growing season. This interdependence helps to ensure the longevity of small farms, while also reconnecting people to the land that helps to sustain them.”

CLICK HERE for the rest of Ashley’s post on CSA shares and how to participate in one near you!

C.S.A.’s enable small farms to survive and thrive, while providing you and your family with an entire growing season’s worth of fresh produce (the length of the season is largely determined by your geographic region). Some C.S.A. shares also include extras, such as eggs, honey, or, at one nearby urban Asheville farm , olive oil shipped in from Greece and bottled and packaged locally. C.S.A. shares are sometimes offered in half-allocations, meaning you get half as much as someone with a full share would. That might suit a party of one just fine.

There are some factors to consider when deciding if a C.S.A. is a good fit for you. For starters, you’ll be eating seasonally. That means you won’t be getting eggplant or tomatoes in your box of spring produce. You also might encounter produce items you’ve never cooked with before, or that are completely foreign to you. As a friend of mine who participated in a C.S.A. half-share last year describes it: “I think it’s important for people to understand what it’s like to depend on seasonal produce. You might have to get REALLY crafty with dark, leafy greens and squash, because you’re going to be getting a lot of it. And you’ll have to be clever about using an abundance of something you may not be familiar with yet (ones that come to mind for me form the past are fennel, okra).”

Furthermore, farms are living entities, subject to the whims of weather and pests. As such, farming is, for all of us, a gamble. With a C.S.A., an unanticipated event, such as a crop getting gobbled up by an interloping groundhog or a devastating late-season blight that takes out the entire tomato crop will alter what appears in your weekly allotment. On the other hand, as my friend describes it, “The value you get from feeling like you are supporting a local farm and what you learn about the seasonal availability (and variety!) of what can be grown near you is invaluable.” It’s even possible, with some farms, to work directly with the farmers about specific crops to be grown. Another C.S.A. subscribing friend loves making cornichon pickles. He discussed this with his farmer and was able to have a crop of the tiny cucumbers grown as part of his C.S.A. share.

If you think participating in a C.S.A. might be for you, check out Local Harvest or the Rodale Institute Farm Locator to find a C.S.A. farm in your area. The time to sign up is now. A number of more popular farms might already be full (those can get booked up quite quickly, my in-the-know source tells me, and might require a bit of woo-ing and charming-over during the tailgate market season; they’re sort of the farm equivalent of the very coveted preschool with the long waiting list). Many others will still have vacancies.

A growing number of young people are turning to careers in farming. This New York Times article showcases the trend of urbanites and college graduates who are moving onto land, saddling up to tractors, and learning to toil the soil. The upcoming film The Greenhorns illustrates farmers from coast-to-coast who are forming a new social movement, committed to following up social and ecological concerns with an active commitment to land stewardship. The Greenhorns, in addition to the title of the film, is also the name of a non-profit, whose mission is “To promote, recruit, and support young farmers in America.” I think participation in a C.S.A. share might be one way that we can help this emerging generation achieve their goals.

Have you ever participated in a C.S.A.? Any feedback or pearls of acquired wisdom you’d like to dispense?

*By the way, if you haven’t checked out British chef Jamie Oliver’s recent TED prizewinning talk , I’d highly recommend it. I’m a huge fan of Jamie and all of the work he’s doing to engage people with growing and eating healthy foods.

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  • What a great post! It actually gave me chills. I haven’t belonged to my local CSA yet (huge waiting list) but I have managed to have a few apartment sized garden plots over the past few years. It’s nothing substantial, but it does somewhat satisfy my need to have my hands in the dirt. It’s also one the reasons I went to school for landscape architecture. Wow, would I love to help people turn their lawns into food!

  • My husband and I have recently signed up for a local CSA and I can’t wait for it to start. In addition to the weekly produce, they offer local organic and free range beef, lamb, chicken, dairy products, locally milled flour, eggs, and pork. I feel like we won the lottery.

    I’m trying to determine how to plant our own garden, accordingly, to complement what will be showing up in our food boxes. I’m not sure yet how to proceed.

  • This is our first year to get a share at our local farm (it even includes flowers!) I also read an article about Fritz Haeg earlier this year and am seriously considering converting our front yard to all garden.

    Thanks for all the great info, Ashley. I hope this a trend that continues to grow.

  • I joined a CSA for the first time last year, and it was definitely an experience. I DID encounter foods I’d never seen before (kohlrabi….lots of kohlrabi) and I discovered a lot of foods I didn’t know I loved (beets!!). It was great to know I was eating locally, healthfully (no pesticides), and mindfully. So much so, that I’m anxiously awaiting this year’s first delivery. For those in WI, I highly recommend High Cross Farm.

  • I just wanted to thank you for posting this, because I think contributing to your community through CSA is one of the best things you could do. This year, my boyfriend and I will support a local organic farm through CSA, along with having a small garden of our own. Your blog has given me inspiration, and is something I look forward to everyday. Thank you for doing what you do!

  • Great post. I was talking to the farmer I get my CSA from. He provided great insight about when to sign up for a CSA. If you are going to to do one sign up now.

    They need to know how much to plant. Also for small farms cash flow is critical to their survival. help them out by signing up early.

  • I would love to know about planting your own garden. I have never done it before and decided that this year I am going to do it! But I need advice! I was thinking of starting out with a potted garden as I am not sure I am ready to commit to one in the backyard. Any tips??

  • george-there are some absolutely fabulous books on container gardening available.
    gayla trail, of yougrowgirl.com fame, just put out a new one, “grow great grub.” also, “garden anywhere” by alys fowler.
    lastly, patti moreno, of “garden girl,” has a number of wonderful video tutorials that will help, as well: http://gardengirltv.com/.

    hope this helps!

  • I go through Full Circle Farm which is a combination of CSA and grocery delivery. Sometimes my box will only have two or three items grown on their farm, with the others being from other local or organic farms. It’s set up a bit differently- as you pay for your orders individually, and can also purchase other grocery items for delivery. It’s worked really well for us- and we just supplement the rest of our produce via our weekly neighborhood farmers market. They also deliver to remote areas in Alaska, which makes me love them more. :)

  • My boss and her husband signed up last summer for a share and were overloaded with veggies that I happily scooped up. She gave me the “weird things” like kohlrabi, mustard greens, daikon, heaps of turnips, celeriac and more. As a result, I sought out recipes I wouldn’t have tried otherwise and loooooved what I made (celeriac mashed potatoes, daikon/green apple/jicama slaw, roasted root veggie soup). This year my boyfriend and I signed up for a veggie and egg C.S.A. share from Red Fire Farm in Granby, MA and we are very excited for it to begin in June!

  • Grace, This post brought a smile to my face! I can still remember when Chesapeake seemed like a distant rural land from VB! So great to hear your story, I had those same feelings of mystery and excitement about growing things and that led to my career in Landscape Architecture! We have some great local farmers out in Suffolk now and the farmer’s market at Croc’s at 19th! The boot is also a great local restuarant! Thanks for the great article!

    • hi sarah!

      ironically, i’m actually from VB, but this post was written by the lovely ashley english- who also has family in VB :)

      *i love that farmer’s market at croc’s! my parents bought their thanksgiving turkey from the farm team that comes down from western va.


  • I am excited to be signing up for a CSA this year. The region I am in is very well known for its local and organic produce, and hence there are plenty of CSAs to choose from! I did some shopping around and the BF and I will be members of the Whole Circle Farm CSA out of Georgetown, Ontario.

    Do any of you who are members of CSAs in more northern parts of the states/and Canada get fruit in your CSA? I’m kind of bummed that I won’t be able to get apples (or pears, plums, peaches) out of any CSA that I looked at.

    Hurray for supporting local farmers!

  • when i moved to alabama, i thought it was pretty backwards– until i learned there are CSA options here, too! i just joined grow alabama (growalabama.com) and am thrilled to have the chance to support local farms. as the granddaughter of an illinois farmer, i know how important it is!

  • I’ve benefitted from a chef friend’s CSA box in the past and it was great. There were definitely some very weird greens. Scapes!

    I was talking to friends the other day and someone mentioned something I had never heard of – which was effectively a garden trade. People with unused yard space basically share it it p-patch style. No money exchanges, but in trade for someone being able to use a little garden space the owner gets some of the harvest.

  • I love belonging to a CSA. While I don’t think the veggies are cheaper than going to the farmer’s market, it forces me to try new things and meal plan. I’ve gotten into a routine of looking up what I’ll get in my box and creating a menu for the next week and cooking up a storm on Sunday afternoons.

  • Hi there, we used a local CSA here in MN (Featherstone Farms) and the quality of produce and variety was great. We definitely did have to clever. Unfortunately, we did not find the CSA to be a good value for us. We did a split box with our neighbors and we totally underestimated how much planning and commitment it takes to actually eat all those veggies. We ended up throwing a lot of produce away. Summer is a very busy time for us and we end up being away for many weekends and out during the evenings. We tried to give food away to our neighbors, but who’s going to take kale? So for us we decided that we will grow some of our own this year and shop at the local coop for whatever we can’t grow.
    But I would highly recommend the CSA for people who are organized and committed. It definitely feels good to eat local, seasonal food!!

  • I signed up for a CSA with MorningSong Farm last year once I convinced a friend to split it with us. They offer weekly or bi-weekly pickup, which is really great since I wouldn’t be able to use up all the greens in just a week. They also grow some “exotic” fruits & vegis (like guavas, macadamia nuts, different types of avocados, rainbow chard, etc – we’re in California) so every week has some surprise! They also grow the best strawberries I’ve had since I was a kid. I recommend trying a CSA to all of my friends.

  • In my area (Berkeley), the same farms that supply the CSAs also put up stands at the farmers’ market. If your life isn’t regular enough (or you don’t cook enough) for a weekly CSA box, check out farmers’ markets!

  • Here in Charlottesville, Virginia, the CSAs are plentiful and very popular! The complaint I hear most often: there’s too much food! What a funny problem to have. The CSAs actually suggest partnering up with a neighbor if you don’t have four people in your family.

    One of our most popular CSAs, Best of What’s Around, was run out of the organic farm owned by Dave Matthews and his wife. For some reason, they shut down and are focusing on raising cattle (bummer…it was one of the better CSAs here). It also came out that another popular CSA isn’t 100% local. Some of the weekly share is supplemented with produce from far off places.

    If you join a CSA, do research before buying your share and keep doing it once you’re a member.

  • Yay! I live in Boston and belonged to the Red Fire Farm CSA last season, and the Shared Harvest Winter CSA before that… I loved both of them!

  • Funny, I had a great grandmother named Ruby whom I called ‘Nanny’. My great grandfather went by ‘Pop’ instead of ‘Papa’ though.

    Very fascinating post. I have been toying with the idea of signing up for a CSA that is conveniently located. I think I will try it out!

  • Beautiful read! I love gardening but have never tried making veggies. I plan to try this year. Something small, but lovely. I will def. look into c.s.a in my area. Great ideas!

  • We were members of a local CSA last year, but recently moved so we need to find a new one. Seriously can’t say enough good things about being a member. It feels really good to know where and who your food comes from.

    We had a small yard for a garden last year, but now we’re forced to find room to grow a little garden in our apartment. Love the book “grow great grub” lots of great tips for small gardens; I think I went a little overboard buying seeds, but it’s exciting!

  • Thanks for a great read! I love my CSA, Full Belly Farm! I have discovered Tokyo turnips, celery root, and that I LOVE Kale! And we are lucky enough to live in Northern CA and get our veggies year-round. We love eating seasonally.

  • I love this post, we just recently switched to eating 100% organic and free range foods. We’re trying to support as many local growers as possible while doing so. I would love to have a garden of my own!

  • In the past we had a summer share from a local multi-farm CSA but I remember a couple of times putting the things I knew we wouldn’t eat into another box so someone else could have a little bonus. :) We found it worked better for us to visit their booth at a local farmer’s market so we could just buy what we would use while still supporting the CSA.

    We do love getting the CSA’s fall/winter share, which is a mix of locally-grown vegetables and imported fruit and we know for sure we’ll eat everything in it. You’ve reminded me that we have a small credit to use up with the CSA so it’s time to order another box!

  • I live in South Florida, so our growing seasons are different (I am enjoying massive boxes from our CSA at the moment, but come summer our CSA goes on hiatus). Once we worked out the size box that worked for us (large box for two people? Overkill!), our CSA has been nothing but fantastic. The cookbook “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone” by Deborah Madison has been an invaluable resource for weeks when we’ve gotten a ton of turnips and no clue what to do with them. Anyone in Palm Beach county, check out Green Cay Farm.

  • I LOVED the CSA I did last summer – Boistfort Valley Farm (Seattle area) – but I was sad because I never had any occasion to go to the farmer’s market anymore since I was drowning in delicious produce already! The other challenge was not knowing ahead of time what we would get.

  • Thanks for the great article! I didn’t really know much about CSA’s until recently we found out that my husbands co-worker was starting one, so we thought we’d give it a try! I couldn’t believe how affordable the program was compared to buying organic produce at the supermarket.

  • I love my local CSA!! (foodconnect.com.au = Queensland Australia) It feels so much better to give the farmers the support and credit they deserve… and receive fresh organic produce in return! We can even join a herdshare scheme and buy part of a cow :)

  • I love the memories you shared of your mother’s farm on the Chesapeake…so sweet. And I love CSA’s…going 3 years straight and this year we even added a meat csa. After viewing Food, Inc. it was a must!

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