During the depths of winter, it can feel invigorating to think about the abundance of fruits and vegetables to come. Spring lettuce is on its way soon, and tomato seeds are glimmers of hope that summer will arrive again. CSAs bring that bounty to from the farm the kitchen each week.
A CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture, allows customers to support local farms by paying for an entire season of food at the beginning of the year. In exchange, they get a box of fresh vegetables, fruit, or meat each week, usually May through October.
CSA sign-ups are right around the corner, and Holly Whitesides of Against the Grain Farm near Boone, North Carolina, is already thinking about what she’ll share with CSA members this year.
“We like to offer them the best of what the farm produces,” she says. “So every week when we’re thinking about what we’re going to take to market or sell to restaurants, we like to put the CSA first and think about what’s going to go in the box this week and what looks the best on the farm right now.”
Her farm’s CSA members get an assortment of produce each week. In the spring, that might include radishes, spinach, and lettuce. Come summer, there could be heirloom tomatoes and beans. By fall, winter squash and kale often round out the growing season.
Holly says she’s grateful to be able to provide such a wide spectrum of produce to her CSA members. “To really infuse the boxes of produce with as much gratitude as we can for our CSA members really trusting us to grow food for them. That’s a really awesome and amazing responsibility as a farmer and one that we definitely don’t take lightly because people are really saying, ‘With this money I believe in what you’re doing, and I also trust you to provide produce for my family.’”
Late winter is an ideal time to join a CSA. Not only are there fruits and vegetables to look forward to in spring, summer, and fall, but winter is a time when farmers need support. They’re purchasing seeds, fixing or buying equipment, caring for livestock, and deciding when to plant each crop.
“The CSA helps bridge that gap from season to season, and having that income early on, in addition to helping us with the cash flow for our farm, it really helps us plan our crops,” she says.
Holly is also planning community events to help build connections between CSA members and the farm. “Usually in September we have a little Harvest Festival and it’s just for our CSA members. They can come out and see the farm and we take them on a little tour and answer any questions that they have and then feed them pizza from ingredients that the farm produced that season. We really enjoy letting CSA members meet each other and have their own special relationship with the farm,” she says.
Members can also volunteer at the farm and connect with each other at the weekly pick-up spots. Oftentimes, belonging to a CSA inspires people to cook more and be more creative with their meals. “A CSA invites a little bit of adventure because there are some vegetables that you might not be familiar with. A CSA definitely invites more of a home-based routine of eating and cooking,” she says.
If eating more fruits and vegetables and supporting local farms are on your list of goals this year, investing in a CSA can be a jumping off point.
CSA Fairs will be held in Asheville on March 12 and the High Country on March 26, 2020. To learn more about Community Supported Agriculture, look for Full Share, ASAP’s CSA guide, available for free at farmers markets and community centers throughout the region, or visit asapconnections.org
Re-run aired: February 24, 2020