By Sarah Sultzer
If you are considering joining a CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) this summer, you may be wondering which one will be right for you. Fortunately, a variety of options is available in our area.
The advantage of a CSA is that it allows you to partner with local farmers and share in the bounty, or risk, of the crops they produce. Members contract either directly with farmers or with farmer co-ops. CSA’s usually offer membership on a seasonal basis and offer a variety of share sizes and types. Separate shares may be offered for vegetables, fruits, eggs, cheeses, flowers, herbs, medicinal products, and meat products. While most CSA’s practice sustainable farming practices, they vary on the degree of their organic certification.
Some factors to consider when choosing a CSA include:
- Does the CSA deliver to local pickup sites or do all participants pick up from a central location? What day do they deliver?
- Are you able to choose from produce each week or is the produce predetermined? Are you okay with some surprises or substitutions in your weekly shares? If your family requires certain produce each week that would not be inherent in a local share (for example, bananas) do you mind having two sources for procuring produce?
- How many weeks does the CSA run?
- What kind of growing practices does the farmer or participating farmers follow?
- Does the CSA offer the option of working on the farm to defray a portion of the cost?
- How many items will you receive each week? Does the CSA provide the right size portion for your family?
- Does your CSA provide opportunities for members to gather and share experiences, such as potluck dinners, farm visits etc.?
Talk to family and friends about their experiences with CSA’s.
Did they like the produce they received?
Did it “force” them to try new produce?
Were they able to manage the food on a regular basis or did they have a lot of waste?
Did they like the assortment of items offered?
Here is some basic information about nearby CSA’s.
Herrcastle Farm offers a share that includes eight different vegetables, one herb, and one fruit item per week. Members who pick up at the Swarthmore location (the Co-op) do not have a choice in the items in the share. There is no work requirement to participate.
More information can be found at: http://www.herrcastlefarm.com.
Hillside Farm at Elwyn offers a CSA in 10 and 5 “unit” designations, and members have some choice in the items they receive. In addition, “You Pick” items are included weekly. Hillside Farm provides an option to do a WorkShare, which requires a work component (these shares are available by application). Pick-ups are at designated times at Hillside Farm. Additional items such as eggs, dairy and meat can be purchased at pick-up times.
Lancaster Farm Fresh offers full vegetable shares (9-12 items/week) and half shares (4-7 items/week) as well as several other share items such as flowers, herbs, chicken, fruit, cheese and meat. Members do not have a choice in the vegetables they receive, though vegetable share participants can exchange an unwanted vegetable item with another vegetable item in the swap box. Local pick-up locations include Rutledge and Media. More information can be found at: http://www.lancasterfarmfresh.com.
Red Earth Farm offers full (10 items/week) and partial (6 items/week) produce shares, as well as several other items by share including cheese, egg, flower, fruit and yogurt/kefir. Members have some choice in the produce they receive. Local pick-up sites include Swarthmore, Wallingford, and Media.
Lindsay Goldsmith of Swarthmore joined Hillside Farm’s CSA last year. “Each Monday, my kids and I tromped over in our boots (and our raincoats for a few weeks there!) to pick up our farm share. We began by selecting beautiful, fresh vegetables that were laid out in the barn, then took a stroll through the cut-your-own herb garden, and finally headed out to the fields for the pick-your-own crops of the week. It was educational, fun and yummy! ...We are thankful for the opportunity.”
Sarah Sultzer is a 25- year resident of Swarthmore, and a member of aFewSteps.