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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Spring Planting: CSAs Share the Farm

Fresh, organic, and local produce is the best way to connect with nature, eat well, and act sustainably in the food system. But what if a victory garden is not your style or you live someplace where even container tomatoes feel too complicated? Perhaps a CSA – Community Supported Agriculture – is the answer and now is the time to join. You can find a CSA in your area by going to the Local Harvest website and putting in your zipcode. The movement has is big enough so that most regions sport at least two or three farms and farm-to-table networks have grown so that even urban dwellers have more chances to participate. Most CSAs work on a subscription basis: for an annual fee, you become a member. As soon as the growing season starts, you get a share of the food grown by your local farmer every week. This could be a delivery of a big box of produce, fruits and vegetables picked that very morning, or it could be that you come to the farm each week and select what you need of that week’s harvest. Some farms also provide farm-fresh eggs or meat, always local and often organic and free range. Others offer a co-op like environment where local products from honey to candles to bread and other baked goods are also available for additional purchase. CSAs often contract with other local growers to provide additional items like apples or potatoes that may be too much for the farm to grow, but are available at other local sites.
When you join a CSA, you automatically become a locavore : what’s available is driven by the season, the weather, and the agricultural zone in which you live. For anyone who's not in a year round temperate area like Florida or California, the early spring shares are often full of leafy greens and fresh baby peas followed by local berries, while August often heralds an abundance of squash, tomatoes, and corn. Eating foods in season is sustainable for the land and more healthful for humans. Most farms offer good information and recipes to help you adjust to eating according to the farm seasons. Others offer a chance to contribute to the well being of your community: some CSAs like the Food Bank Farm of Western Massachusetts (pictured here) contribute more than half of their harvest to food pantries and shelters, providing those in need with fresh, organic foods that are usually so difficult for hunger relief organizations to offer. Click here to read a bit more about CSAs and here for more information about Local Harvest. photo credit: Zoe Rubinstein

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