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.