Community Supported Agriculture
When we’re in the depths of winter and the forecast is for more snow, summer can be the last thing on your mind. Farmers, though, are already planning their harvests and some have already opened up membership for their CSAs.
What is a CSA?
CSA stands for “community supported agriculture” and it allows non-farmers direct access to fresh, local produce.
Why choose a CSA?
CSAs have become an important part in helping our local farmers maintain their economic viability throughout the year. As consumers, we can sometimes be insulated from the economic dangers that farmers face. The stretch of sunny hot weather that was great for the beach can fry seedlings in the field. That late season frost can slow growth or kill tender vegetables. When consumers help take on some of the uncertainty of farming it’s called ‘shared risk.’ Most NH CSA farms are diversified (they grow lots of different kinds of vegetables) so even if one crop is ruined, most farmers are able to make up for it elsewhere.
But it’s not only the farmers who get something out of the CSA. A huge part of it is building and strengthening community among its members. It is a wonderful experience to go to a farm and meet the other members, share recipes and news and in some cases see how your vegetables were grown. Not to mention that you will be getting some of the freshest produce available, grown in local soil.
How does it work?
At the beginning of the year you buy a CSA share. Depending on the type of share and the farm, vegetable pick up begins sometime between late March and late April. You go to the farm (or in some cases as designated pick-up location) and grab your box (or bag) of vegetables. At the beginning of the season your boxes will have hardy or cold tolerant veggies like broccoli and lettuces. Later on, as the weather gets warmer, you can usually expect to get tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots and the ubiquitous summer squash (selection will vary by farm and weather conditions)
How long does it go?
Depends on the farm! Some farms are most active during the late spring and summer months. Some include the fall in their CSAs. Some have a separate fall/winter share.
How do I pick one?
You’re ready to get a CSA! So where do you start? First, find farms in your area who are offering CSAs. Then see what those farms offer. Some farms will have other things you might be interested in like pick-your-own herbs or flowers, meat, eggs, fruit, or maple syrup. Many CSA farms welcome members to walk around the farms and see how food is grown but some (especially farms that also do dairy products) have to be more restrictive due to FDA requirements. If this is important to you, check with your farmer.
Some farms (especially those with farm stands) are also experimenting with a new style of CSA called a market share. Instead of grabbing a box with a mix of all the vegetables available, you have a bit more choice over your options and can pick and choose what you bring home. You know your family and habits best, so look for one that suits your needs.
What if my family is small/I don’t eat that many vegetables/my kids are picky?
If you think a CSA will be too big for you, try the local farmers’ markets and remember to ‘think local.’
The NH Department of Agriculture hasn’t posted the 2017 CSA farms yet, but here is the 2016 list which is an excellent place to start. We will be updating this link as soon as the new list is posted.
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