CSAs: Time to get on the waiting list!

Believe it or not, if you want to join a CSA farm next year, NOW is a good time to get on their waiting lists for 2011. I wrote a post last spring all about CSAs, and I’ll excerpt some of it here. But go to the post for a full listing of CSA farms in Bucks County. Many CSAs start approaching their membership in the fall to see who wants to re-up, often accepting new applications in November or December.

What is it? CSA stands for “Community Supported Agriculture.” In short, it’s a way for consumers to buy into an agricultural enterprise, receive fresh, natural food seasonally and support our local food system.

Most CSAs are farms, and involve vegetables herbs, fruits and flowers, although other types – meat, fish – are popping up all the time, here and in other parts of the country. We are fortunate to have a healthy crop of CSAs here in Bucks County too. All told, about eleven, including one poultry farm CSA. And most use organic, or nearly organic, methods of farming.

How does it work? I’ll use a CSA farm as an example, since that’s most common. You buy a “share” per season (usually late May through mid-November), which entitles your household to a weekly portion of produce, grown on that farm. Many CSAs offer half-shares, too, which is what Mark and I have since we are only two adults. We pick up every other week. Some people go in with other family members or friends and buy a share together.

Most CSAs also ask that each household volunteer a certain number of hours per season but it’s quite reasonable. Our CSA, Anchor Run Farm in Wrightstown, asks full share members to put in 8 hours over the course of the season, half-share members only 4 hours. Tasks vary from helping with the garlic harvest (an” all hands on deck” type event) to weeding and other necessary farming maintenance.

At Anchor Run, we pick up every other week (because we are half-share members) which involves going to the farm on a Monday or Thursday, filling our bags with the vegetables picked that week, and doing some “pick-your-own” of other vegetables or fruits. The farmers tell us how much we can pick, trying to make sure there will be enough to go around for all members. Some CSAs have you pick all your own vegetables.

Many CSAs also offer other local products from partner farms, like eggs, poultry, beef, bacon, mushrooms, preserves, etc. that you can buy at the same time you pick up your share. And many also offer special educational programs for little family members, community events and cooking demos.

Why do it? Ah. When I wrote out the check last year, I was a bit taken aback. “For vegetables?” I thought, “This better be worth it.” And it was. Everything they say about eating FRESH vegetables is true: they taste so much better, they last so much longer, and the variety is delightful. Vegetables we had given up on – like radishes – were happily welcomed back into our home. We made new friends, like garlic scapes (the top green part of growing garlic, available for a brief time in the spring).

Who runs CSAs and how can I find one near me? We have eleven CSAs in Bucks County that offer produce and one that offers poultry and eggs. They range in size from 25 members to over 200. Some have been going for years, some are just getting started. So if one of the established ones is full up this year, try another, newer one. You may be getting in on the ground floor, so to speak.

For a full listing of CSA farms in Bucks County, click here.

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