A farm CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture, can offer an appealing variety of foods, as well as the chance to support local producers!
By: Nicole McKinney of Tea on the Trail
Are you thinking about subscribing to a Farm Share Community Supported Agriculture?
Or maybe even wondering what it is in the first place?
This year I finally took the plunge, and I’ve learned so much!
Why I Chose a Farm CSA
I’m one of those people who always has a little garden.
No, I don’t have a green thumb. It’s just that homegrown tastes SO MUCH better.
We try to eat ALLLL the colors. But a full garden? That’s a big commitment for the whole growing season.
If only someone else would plant the veggies. And water and weed. And harvest. Oh, and deliver them to my house.
Kind of like a nutrition subscription!
Turns out that’s basically what community supported agriculture is (CSA).
After looking around my own county without success, I was delighted to discover Old Homeplace Farm, run by Ronnie, Gloria, Maggie & Will Bowling in Clay County, Kentucky.
I like the convenience of paying in advance for 18 weeks of the subscription to a local farm CSA, but payments can also be weekly.
In fact, I’ve already signed up for the fall CSA which starts in October! That one runs for 10 weeks.
Want to learn about how the same concept works for buying seafood? Read up on Community Supported Fisheries!
Five Things I Learned When I Got a Farm Share CSA
1. Farmers make house calls
So in my case, veggies are delivered each week to a convenient pickup location.
But for an additional fee, homes within a certain distance can add on home delivery. How convenient is that?
Over the weekend, Maggie sends an email listing what veggies to expect in the current week’s delivery.
Information about other CSAs, including cheese, fresh cut flowers, eggs, and meat is also in the email. This gives me enough time to order extras online.
Fresh flowers, anyone?
2. Variety is the spice of life
When my friend heard about the farm CSA, she started shaking her head.
“We don’t like zucchini,” she explained.
“Well, I have enough people bringing me vegetables and it’s always tomatoes and zucchini. A lot of zucchini.”
Giggle. This is not about zucchini.
This is about cucumbers, green beans, kale, arugula, romaine, and garlic.
This is about onions: green, red and white.
Yes, there are tomatoes–an assortment of heirloom varieties!
There was fresh fennel, which I had never cooked with before, but I bought extras twice!
And there were strawberries that my husband declared to be the best he’s ever eaten.
There was, of course, some zucchini, but also a generous amount of zephyr squash, and peppers of every description.
Oh, and carrots! Carrots that finally taste like the ones we grew when I was a kid. I’d looked for homegrown carrots at our farmers market for years.
Which reminds me…
3. You might shop the farmer’s market actually MORE than normal
I admit, one of my concerns was diverting support away from my own local farmer’s market.
But a funny thing happened.
Since the shares did not get overloaded with tomatoes and zucchini (see item 2) we actually still wanted more of those. Bet you can guess where I found them!
The subscription made me more aware of when veggies were ripening, so I could plan my farmer’s market visits better. In fact, the weekly pickup location was a small business mercantile that I’d been meaning to visit for a while.
These CSA shares came in three sizes: small, medium, and large. The small was just right, and sometimes plenty generous, for two of us.
A small share would also be perfect if you want to give this a try, but still support your local farmer’s market.
The medium and large plans would work out for families of four or more, or for putting vegetables up for the winter.
Of everything, maybe only the basil was a bit more abundant than I expected. That was never a problem, though. I knew where to find a killer basil lemon granita recipe. Or I could try basil butter or pesto!
4. Come for the veggies, stay for the farm CSA education
Right away when I subscribed, Maggie sent a download with tips for success.
It seems an abundant stream of vegetables can be overwhelming without a little preparation! I had never been in a position to know this.
Her tips were quite informative, even to an experienced veggie lover like me.
For one thing, optimum veggie storage.
She suggested these Rubbermaid FreshWorks Produce Savers, which work better than my fridge’s crisper drawer. They are amazing! Not only do they keep my veggies fresh, they revive the ones I let get wilty!
I’ve gotta say, though, the farm fresh vegetables generally lasted much longer than store-bought ones. Usually, they were picked the very day I received them.
Vegetable by vegetable, she listed freshness tips.
Did you know you should cut the greens off root vegetables (radishes, kohlrabi, etc.) immediately, before storing them? Otherwise, the moisture from the greens migrates into the vegetable and makes it limp and spongy.
Basil likes to be on your countertop–in water like a bouquet–with a bag loosely over the top.
And celery–it stays crunchiest wrapped in foil!
The email before each delivery also restated tips for each week’s vegetables, along with a recipe of the week.
A few other tools that make quick work of all that vegetable goodness:
A mandoline seemed like a luxury to me, but soon I couldn’t live without it.
My 12″ cast-iron skillet seems to make everything taste fantastic–from roasted garlic to tomato steaks.
Old Homeplace gave away a few of these fantastic Rada tomato knives in a Facebook contest for CSA subscribers. I love mine!
A veggie spiralizer means squash actually gets eaten in our house. I’ve used every style there is, and this style is my hands-down favorite. Veggie Zoodles tossed with Alfredo Sauce for the win!
5. The veggies are crisp, but the people have to be flexible
Farming is about seasons, and every one is different.
Adverse weather events could mean some crops don’t make it into the CSA. They may not be as often as expected, or even not at all.
Sadly, this year that was the case with blueberries.
Community Supported Agriculture means subscribers stand with the farmers through these ups and downs. However, Old Homeplace gave plenty of notice as to how crops were doing.
They even made substitutions that were just as good to me as the intended crops.
For example, early on, when ripening was a lot slower than expected, the substitution was a dozen fresh eggs. Maggie let us know beforehand and accommodated vegan subscribers with a different choice.
Also, what matters to me is their organic practices.
From the website, they explain: “This adherence to healthy soil biology, coupled with the use of crop rotation and cover crops, allows us to maintain healthy crops without using synthetic pesticides or chemical fertilizers.“
The takeaway? For me, a CSA means having choices that are not always available in my corner of Kentucky. A full variety of organic, local, vegetables. Ingredients for old favorite recipes, as well as ones I’d never tried before.
I feel good about supporting community agriculture. And I feel great about feeding my family real food.
About Nicole McKinney
Nicole McKinney is a photographer, rare tea enthusiast, and nature lover. She lives with her husband in Eastern Kentucky. Follow Nicole at Tea on the Trail.