Monday, February 28, 2011

An introduction to community supported farms

Mmmmm. I’ve got Hearty Meatless Sauce finishing up in the crockpot. It smells amazing and I am ready for dinner!
But these warm(er) temperatures mean melting snow. I can see the green of the grass again and that has me longing for the best that summer has to offer, like fresh fruits and veggies. I can almost taste those heirloom tomatoes.
I’ll soon be signing up for my chosen CSA this year. After 4 years with Genesee Valley Organic Community Supported Agriculture (GVOCSA), last year I went with Porter Farms. I have nothing negative to say about the experience. But GVOCSA has a longer season, and a greater variety of veggies, plus provides herbs too. There is a work requirement that Porter did not have, and the pickup is a little farther away, but I’ll be splitting a full share with a friend and so it won’t be quite as laborious.
If you aren’t familiar with CSAs (essentially, community supported farms), you can get some basic information from Local Harvest here. If you think you might be interested in joining a CSA, in the upper right hand corner of that same page, you can input your zip code and do a search to see what’s available near you.
The main contenders serving the Rochester area are:

Is a CSA right for you?
While I love being part of a CSA, it’s not for everyone. Some things to think about before you sign up:
  • Am I willing to share in the risk?  While I have never had issues with not getting a good amount of fruits and/or veggies from the CSA, by being a member you do share in the risks of farming.
  • Will I use all of the produce? While some CSAs offer a “small”, “partial” or “half” share it’s still a lot of produce. And it’s what’s in season, so it might not be what you like or things that fit into your favorite recipes. You have to think about whether you eat enough vegetables to make it worthwhile for you. Also, some CSAs tend toward more “mainstream” vegetables. Others are more broad. So, before signing up, know what to expect and consider whether you’re willing to try kohlrabi, mizzuna and garlic scapes.
  • Am I willing to work? If work is required, consider whether you have the time and energy to commit. Also, will you be free on the dates/time of pick up?
  • Make sure you know the policies. Know what the pickup parameters are (where, when), what happens if you forget to pickup, what work is required, when payment is required, what happens if you’re on vacation, who to contact with issues…
  • CSAs are to grocers as bed and breakfasts are to hotels. CSAs are a different, less formalized option than your standard grocery store. Think about the difference between a B&B and the Hampton Inn. With a B&B and a CSA, you’re going to get a smaller, “cozier” personal experience than with a chain hotel or supermarket. Are you comfortable with that?

Cooking from your CSA share
I think of cooking from a CSA share as “inductive cooking” (starting with specific ingredients and then finding a recipe to fit them) as opposed to what I do the rest of the year which I think of as “deductive cooking” (starting from the whole world of recipes and narrowing it down.)
There are some great cookbooks that talk about using what’s in season, and many CSAs use message boards, email lists or websites to disseminate recipes using the produce.
There’s also always the go-to dishes—salads, stir frys and roasted vegetables (which can be used to fill tacos, mixed with rice or pasta, added as a pizza topping…)

Farmer’s Markets
We also have a lot of farmer’s markets in Rochester. In addition to the Public Market downtown, almost every suburb—Greece, Brighton, Webster, Penfield, Pittsford, Irondequoit—has its own. There are also additional smaller farmer’s markets in the city including the Southwedge and Monroe Village markets.
For more details, or to find farmer’s markets in your area, you can do a search on Local Harvest.

Next up: How to preserve all that produce!

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