The Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, farm nearest my house has switched from its summer to its fall menu.
Instead of organically grown peppers, green beans, melons, and other warm-weather crops, members are filling their baskets with autumn vegetables — cauliflower, cabbage, carrots, leeks, potatoes, winter squash, pumpkins, onions, garlic, and a few “surprises,” according to Judy Stevens, co-owner with her husband, Will, of Golden Russet Farm.
Despite Vermont’s rural character, there are more than 85 CSAs in the state, and well over 2,500 nationwide. While some also offer fruit, dairy products, and meats, most CSAs, like Golden Russet, are small, family-owned farms to which subscribers pay an upfront fee for a season’s share of fresh, organic, locally produced vegetables and herbs.
“Share” is the right word, for members sign on for the same risks that CSA farmers face. If late blight hits the potatoes, as it did in Vermont this year, there may be no potatoes to distribute. Members receive what the farmers harvest.
Judy remembers 1997: “Herbicide spray drifted over from a neighboring farm and killed our crops, so we decided to refund everyone’s money.” Major failures like that, however, are rare.
On Wednesdays, Golden Russet’s 60-plus members gather at the 84-acre farm to collect their week’s share, which Ms. Stevens lists on a blackboard. Last weeks’ portion — each is large enough for a family of four — included cabbage, spinach, various root crops, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, celeriac, green peppers, kale, hot peppers, winter squash, and broccoli.
Members also could take advantage of the pick-your-own option and add flowers, herbs, and cherry tomatoes to their baskets.
In addition to fresh produce, CSAs offer people an opportunity to become familiar with a working farm and to meet the people who plant, tend, and harvest our food.
Distribution day at Golden Russet is a social event, an opportunity for members to catch up with each other and the local news, and to share cooking tips and recipes, especially for less familiar vegetables, such as celeriac.
“We have members of all ages,” Stevens says, “but young families are especially enthusiastic. Parents like showing their children how different vegetables grow. The kids like to help weigh and bag the produce. And,” she added with a laugh, “we have a huge sand pile that’s very popular.”
As Thanksgiving approaches, a holiday associated with food and friendship, it’s a fitting time to investigate joining a CSA. LocalHarvest, a nonprofit organic food website, can identify a farm near you. If you grow your own vegetables, consider giving someone you know a membership.
CSAs are a good deal for local farmers, a good deal for the environment, and a good deal for anyone who wants to eat fresh, locally grown produce. Everyone wins.
Karan Davis Cutler, a former magazine editor and newspaper columnist, is the author of scores of garden articles and more than a dozen books, including “Burpee - The Complete Flower Gardener” and “Herb Gardening for Dummies.” She now struggles to garden in the unyieldingly dense clay of Addison County, Vt., on the shore of Lake Champlain, where she is working on a book about gardening to attract birds and other wildlife. She will be blogging regularly for Diggin’ It.
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