I am sure some of you are asking "What the heck is a CSA?". Well, it stands for Community Supported Agriculture and is a wonderful way to help out your local farmers and receive wonderful fresh produce at the same time.
I am so excited about this and I have been counting down the days until June 7th, when I receive my first box. I never really knew these programs existed until earlier this year when I read an article in Cooking Light about what they were and how they worked. Basically, a farm (or sometimes groups of farms) will create "shares" in their produce and sell them to the community. You buy in to one of the shares (usually about $25-30 a week for the period of the share) and this way, the farmer has guaranteed income for the period of the share, usually one season. The farm I have joined has a summer and a winter season, although most farms will generally only do the summer shares....just depends on the farm and what they produce. There is some risk to the consumer, in that if there are harsh conditions or the crop is not great, be it through drought, hurricane, frost, whatever, then you may not get as much produce than if the weather is perfect and everything goes to plan. This definitely gives the farmer some piece of mind and ensures that they get some money for the season, no matter how poorly their crop yield is. Given that I live in the relatively mild Mid-Atlantic region, where severe weather extremes are not all that common, I think the risk for us is fairly minimal.
The benefit to the consumer of course, is that you get fresh, usually organic produce direct from the farm with no middle man and no freezing etc. Most of my grocery bill goes towards produce, so for me, this was a no brainer. It would also give me a chance to cook with some fruits and vegetables that I may not be familiar with, as I don't have a say in what I get. I know the farm I have signed up with grows okra and this is not something I have ever cooked. So I am looking forward to trying some new things.
Also, I want to try and cook with more seasonal produce that is at its best and freshest, rather than using fruits and vegetables that are available at the supermarkets year round and taste terrible. There is nothing better than freshly picked, vine/tree ripened produce that has never been frozen. Most produce at the supermarkets is grown for aesthetic appeal and lacks any kind of flavor. I am looking forward to receiving fresh heirloom tomatoes, greens, herbs, flowers and vegetables.
If you want to find out if there is a CSA near you, just go to the Local Harvest website and search using your zip code. It is a wonderful site and couldn't be easier to use. I will definitely be posting about the shares I receive from Even Star farm in Southern Maryland, but for now I have posted a picture of some of my culinary herbs that I planted this year and some that require planting this weekend.