Last week, I had the pleasure of attending Accokeek's seminar "Successful CSAs: How to Start and Manage a Community Supported Agriculture Program" with my newest partner-in-learning, Allison Lilly. A panel of farmers who operate CSAs ranging from two-acre, 26-share, leased properties to hundred-acre, 1900-share farms, spoke about land-planning, seed-saving and the overall pros and cons of the biz. While I learned quite a few valubale lessons for my future farming endeavors, I imagine our readers are more likely to purchase a share in a CSA than try and start one up so I've decided to share a few tips for anyone interested in supporting community agriculture. Here goes:
- Understand your investment. Purchasing a share in community agriculture means fresh, local produce on a weekly basis for a reasonable price. Your farmer will collect your investment at planting time and you will receive the invaluable peace of mind of knowing exactly where your produce (and sometimes eggs) comes from for 20-24 weeks out of the year. Remember, you are putting your faith in the farmer and eating in-season with respect to the weather so... have reasonable expectations. You may not get strawberries every week but you will be exposed to new flavors (and probably plenty of kale).
- Find the best fit. If you want to bring your kids to pick their own berries, be sure your farmer offers that service. Some CSAs serve larger volumes and farm on hundreds of acres. This means dangerous machinery, busy business and a tight schedule - which isn't neccessarily conducive to drop-in visitors and volunteers. Smaller farms may offer a price break in exchange for weekly or monthly volunteer hours. To search your local listings visit LocalHarvest.org.
- Consider your shopping habits and expectations. Just as scale will vary between farms, so will the product you take. Some CSAs offer a certain number of products in a pick-and-choose manner. Members can come and take two-shares of tomatoes and skip the chard, or several watermelons instead of something less tantilizing to their taste. Others offer a box with equal amounts of each weekly harvest and perhaps a recipe for the lesser-known veggie they grew for your cooking adventures.
- (Maybe) Negotiate (during the last hour) at the Farmers Market, not the CSA. The price per share is carefully calculated based on size, soil capability, labor, climate and everything else that any business has to account for. Asking a farmer to lower it, or to go through the added complications of half-shares, can be disrespectful. Not to mention, a lot of sweat equity goes into farming. Just because massive distribution systems allow the big grocers to sell certain foods very cheap, doesn't mean a farmer can afford to offer such price breaks.
Additional infomation about Community Supported Agriculture can be found on the Local Harvest website. Additional information about educational opportunities at the Accokeek Foundation can be found on their website. Additional pictures and information from our recent adventure out to Accokeek can be found on Adventures in Container Gardening.