As a proponent of eating local, seasonal food, I have become more active in researching various means of connecting with local farmers and vendors. One of the most direct routes to a local farm is a concept known as Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). CSAs are a partnership between the public and area farms that can take one of two forms: physical or monetary contributions. With a physical contribution, a member pledges to work a certain number of hours on the farm and receives a share of the harvest each week during the growing season. Usually the member picks up their share directly from the farm after they have worked their allotted hours. With a monetary contribution, an individual pays an agreed upon price, usually at the beginning of the growing season, and receives a share of the harvest weekly. The fee to join a CSA is used to cover the costs of farm production and can help smaller farms subsist throughout the growing season and beyond.
Share sizes vary, but usually the produce from one week's share can feed an entire family. For those of us who are single or don't have children, some CSAs offer half shares that can feed one or two adults. Depending on the CSA, members either pick up their share from the farm or a centralized drop off location. Some CSAs even offer delivery direct to your home or office for a fee.
There are benefits and risks to joining a CSA. The most obvious benefit is knowing how your food is being grown and who is growing it. For those who work the farm, the satisfaction of getting your hands dirty is a huge reward (not so much for this city girl, but apparently such satisfaction exists in others). Because you receive whatever is harvested for that week, you often discover new varieties of fruits and vegetables (adventurous cooking, anyone?). However, CSA members also bear the risks of a poor harvest or devastating natural phenomenon that can potentially ruin crops. Also, some people find not having control over what they receive in their share to be a negative.
CSAs have grown in popularity over the last decade as more and more people take a stronger interest in knowing the source of their food. The concept behind CSAs can be traced back over forty years ago to Japan. Born out of concern for the increased use of pesticides in food production and the disappearance of small farms, the idea was first brought to the United States in the mid 80s. Originally thought of as a hippie ideal, CSAs are becoming more and more common in metropolitan areas and are spreading to smaller cities in the United States.
There are several CSA options in the DC metro area that provide a wide range of fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy items and even flowers. Also, not all CSA farms use certified organic farming practices, often because of the costs associated with certifying a farm as organic. However, almost all CSA farms use little to no pesticides and have no qualms discussing their farming methods with interested individuals. Because of the differences in CSA methods and crop lists (what crops the farm grows and during what time of year they are available), some research should be done to find the one that suits you best. To shed some light on the variety of CSAs in the DC area, I've highlighted three with unique principles or approaches to the CSA concept.
Clagett Farms operates a very popular CSA that serves the Washington, DC area and only requires a monetary contribution. The Clagett farm growing season runs from May to November and has two share pick up options: either at the farm in Upper Marlboro, Maryland or the parking lot of the First Baptist Church in Dupont Circle. To show their commitment to sharing their bounty with others, Clagett Farms also uses their farm to help those in need. According to the Clagett Farm site on localharvest.org, “We are committed stewards of our environment, ad distribute 40% of our produce to low-income individuals in D.C.” To learn more about the Clagett Farm CSA, including share pricing and how to join, contact Carrie Vaughn at 301-627-4662 or visit their site on LocalHarvest.
Don't want to schlep out to a farm or designated drop off location to pick up your share? Karl's Farm may be the answer to your CSA prayers. For an additional fee on top of the CSA share cost, the Wiegand family will deliver your share to your home straight from their farm in Pisgah, Maryland. The delivery area, however, is limited to Bethesda, Chevy Chase, College Park, Silver Spring, Takoma Park or Washington, DC. Their growing season goes from May to December and they offer eggs as well as vegetables and herbs. Karl's Farm, like most all CSA's in the DC area, uses no pesticides in their farming methods and their eggs come from free range chickens. For more information on their CSA program, visit the Karl's Farm website.
Last but not least is the Star Hollow Farm CSA, a uniquely year round CSA. This one is near to my heart because I have been a very happy member for almost a year. Star Hollow is a small farm located in Three Springs, Pennsylvania and is a Pennsylvania Certified Organic farm. Star Hollow has taken the CSA concept and made it much more user friendly for its members. Once you become a member, you pay $300, which is put in a bank account of sorts. From Wednesday at 7 am to Thursday at 7 am each week, members go to the Star Hollow Farm website and order either a small or large CSA box. Randy and Chris Treichler post an expected list of the contents for the small and large box on the storefront page so members can anticipate what they will receive on Saturday (pick up locations are in Adams Morgan, Tenleytown and McConnellsburg). If you don't like what's being offered in the CSA boxes, you can order from the online market, which includes a laundry list of vegetables, dairy products, fruits, mushrooms and eggs (even honey and preserves). The cost of your order is then deducted from the $300. Chris sends out a reminder when your account balance gets low. At any time you can cancel your membership, something not common to most CSAs. A more detailed description of the Star Hollow Farm CSA, as well as information on how to join, can be found at their website.
CSAs are not for everyone and require a bit of a commitment (either monetarily or physically) up front. With the increased interest in CSAs has come an increased demand. Many CSAs now have waiting lists for people interested in joining and are bombarded when they open up their membership for the next growing season. To become a CSA member, it's important to research options in your area and contact the farm before their open enrollment period to express interest. However, from personal experience, I can tell you the rewards are delicious (nothing beats a fresh from the ground beet in my book). To find other CSAs in the DC area and beyond, visit localharvest.org, NewFarm's farm locator or the Eat Well Guide.