So, it poured down sleet all day today. That infernal rodent, Punxsutawney Phil, saw his shadow and forecast a grim six more weeks of bone chilling temperatures and “record snow events.” Three more weeks to go, Phil. Thanks, Buddy. While contemplating cooking up a vat of groundhog confit is taking it a bit too far, suffice it to say, I have the Cabin Fever, baby. Bad.
What keeps this locavore’s heart warm in February, other than my child, six layers of clothes and fuzzy socks, is the knowledge that it is once again time to sign up for our CSA. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. It is basically a mutual agreement between consumers and a farmer that helps guarantee the farmer a reliable income, and the consumers each get a share of the produce throughout the season.
A CSA is a real partnership; the consumers take on some of the risk of farming as a bad season can mean less produce. However, the support through the tough seasons allows the farm to continue, and it certainly pays off during the good seasons. Most seasons, a CSA subscription provides enough produce to feed a family of four. Many will offer shared, or half subscriptions for single people or small families. (Learn more about CSAs and how to find one after the jump).
The “rules” for each CSA differ. Some even require volunteer time where the consumers are asked to spend a few hours working in the field, known as a working share. Many CSAs practice sustainable agriculture, a real benefit to everyone, even the community at large.
Our family is a bit unique, we have a CSA, and I buy additional fruits and vegetables weekly at the farmers market. We definitely get our five-a-day, with enough left over to feed friends and extended family. The farmers market in our community also offers a live band every Saturday morning, a local cafe we love, and a store that sells only spices — the entire store. My child won’t let me miss it, even if we have more vegetables than we know what to do with.
A CSA does not always consist of just produce. It can include eggs, bread and meats, and even grains. According to the Local Harvest.org web site, “CSA reflects an innovative and resourceful strategy to connect local farmers with local consumers; develop a regional food supply and strong local economy; maintain a sense of community; encourage land stewardship; and honor the knowledge and experience of growers and producers working with small to medium farms.”
If you have not heard of a CSA before, it is a relatively new practice, just becoming a norm in the States in the mid-eighties. It has grown rapidly, however, and there are now over 1500 CSA farms in North America. If you are interested in finding a CSA program near you, LocalHarvest.org offers a search tool by zip code to make it easy.
Other ways to support your local farmers, of course, include farmers markets and even buying certain items direct from the farms. This latter option is an ideal way to find naturally-raised meats from someone you know and trust, a growing concern for good reason. The Sustainable Table site offers an easy search tool to locate the products you are interested in and the farms in your area where you can find them. LocalHarvest.org also offers an easy search by zip code for a farmers market near you.
Most farmers markets that are seasonal, like mine, open near the first weekend in April. Just one month, 9 days, and eight hours or so from now. 1040 hours. Give or take. C’mon spring.