During uncertain times, it can be comforting to know where your food comes from. Community Supported Agriculture is one way to make sure your kitchen is stocked with farm-fresh food each week.
Members sign up for a farm’s CSA at the beginning of the season. Each week, customers receive a box of produce, eggs, meat, or other items straight from a local farm. Pick up spots are arranged in advance and are often at the farm or other open-air locations.
Earlier this month, when it was safe for crowds to gather, ASAP hosted a CSA fair at New Belgium Brewing in Asheville, North Carolina. The goal was to connect customers with farmers who can supply them with food this year, from May through October.
Nine farmers stood behind tables with colorful posters describing their farms and CSA offerings. Some farmers also had decorations, like little bouquets of kale and mustard greens. Athena Garcia and Kyle Holman from The Bird and the Beasts’ Farmstead were set up by the front door. They offer a weekly produce CSA box filled with a wide range of field vegetables.
“It feels really good to share our love of vegetables with other people,” Kyle says.
“Yes, sharing the food and the way we make it,” Athena adds. “We love to cook and we love to eat, so we share recipes and all sorts of tips throughout the season on just helping people to be more adventurous with food. We really hope that people will try foods they’ve never tried before or maybe they haven’t tasted truly fresh.”
The room buzzes with activity. Kathy Jacobs, a potential CSA member from East Asheville, comes up to the table. She joined a CSA last year and says it was a lot of fun.
“I tried Swiss chard for the first time and I made a big batch of my Swiss chard garbanzo beans. We got just the best tomatoes in the world and I got corn on the cob. My grandsons declared it was the best corn on the cob they’d ever eaten,” she says.
There are a few different CSA models. Many farms provide a box of mixed produce. Members don’t know exactly what they’ll get each week, which leads to new discoveries in the kitchen. Other members prefer to eat certain vegetables every week. Farms sometimes offer a “market share” CSA to suit their needs.
Alex Brown from Full Sun Farm offers a market share CSA. He explains that members pay for the season in advance and get credit to use at their farm stand all season. Members pick out the items they’d like each week, and don’t have to worry about finding a friend to pick up their box if they’re out of town.
“You can just get what you want when you want, and it’s very convenient.” Alex says.
Some CSAs include items from several farms. They typically have a wide range of offerings, like produce, meat, eggs, and food products made by local artisans. Nicole Coston is the owner and operator of Bearwallow Valley Farms in Henderson County. They offer a multi-farm CSA made up of five farms.
“My husband and I grow the majority of the produce and then we have other farmers that grow specialty items for us. Mr. Stepp grows raspberries for us. The Rhodes boys are doing blackberries. We’ve got peaches, asparagus and mushrooms. If it is able to be harvested in Western North Carolina from May to October, you’re pretty well going to see it in our box,” she says.
Many CSAs send out emails with recipes and tips for cooking the food in that week’s box. Nicole Coston is a farmer and a dietician, so she has health in mind when she plans the week.
“Every menu you receive is handcrafted by a registered dietitian,” she explains. “As a dietician, I wanted to make sure we were offering a very well balanced diet to our members, so that way we had everything to really make that nice, colorful plate.”
“We also wanted to make sure that we’re building up other farmers,” she adds. “This is a cooperative. We’re doing this together and we’re trying to make sure that our economy in Western North Carolina is sustainable and trying to just reinvigorate that local food movement and start to get people really interested in their farm and their farmers that are right around them.”
All of the farmers in the room have advice on how to choose a CSA. They suggest asking about the size of each share and how much food members receive each week. Many farms have small shares geared towards households with one or two people, and also large shares that feed a family or a group of neighbors.
It’s a good idea to ask what time of year certain produce will be available. Most CSAs have tomatoes and corn only in the summer. Fruit is seasonal too, and lettuce and greens are mostly available in the spring and fall.
The CSA Fair is winding down, but there’s still excitement in the air. Danielle Keeter from Mighty Gnome Market Garden describes what she hopes people will get out of joining a CSA.
“Just the freshest, most delicious produce we can grow and the knowledge that they’re supporting someone locally who’s trying as hard as they can to have sustainable practices,” she says. “Whatever farm they choose, it makes me so happy that people care enough to do this. It’s really rewarding to actually see everyone who’s interested here. It’s not something you see every day.”
Spring is the time to sign up for a CSA. Many farms have a limited number of shares, and some fill up fast. Most farms begin distributing food in May and conclude in October.
CSA sign-ups are generally through the website of each individual farm. Links to the farms that participated in the CSA Fair are at www.asapconnections.org
Find more farms offering CSAs throughout Western North Carolina and the Southern Appalachian Mountains in ASAP’s printed CSA guide “Full Share” or online at www.appalachiangrown.org
Aired: March 23, 2020