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It’s CSA Time!

Now that spring has officially arrived and my tulips have started to emerge from their cold slumber, I’ve been thinking about my favorite fruits & veggies and anticipating the first rhubarb and asparagus crops of the year. There’s nothing better than getting these crops directly from the farm for flavor and nutrition. After watching some shocking documentaries about the US food industry last year, my family decided to make some small changes and try to eat more produce from local, organic growers. Enter the CSA Farm.

If you’re not familiar with a CSA, this definition, taken directly from my CSA farm’s website sums it up quite well:

“Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a model for co-operation between farmers and consumers, in which households ‘subscribe’ to a season’s worth of fresh produce with a single investment in the spring. In addition to receiving a wide array of the freshest fruits and vegetables, the CSA members are invited to participate in a unique program of farm visits, educational, inspirational and community building activities.”

CSA farms truly want their shareholders to become “members” of their farm and want them to become more involved and invested in how sustainable and organic foods are grown locally. Online research led me to various farms in Minnesota that offer CSA shares. I found this site to be very helpful. It provides great introductory information and links you to dozens of local farms where you can find details about their programs (prices, crops, drop sites, etc.)

In addition to produce CSA farms, there are also local meat, egg and dairy farms that sell shares.

My family decided on Featherstone Farm and we split a Grande Share with another family. Sometimes the shares get very large during peak growing season, and we didn’t want anything to go to waste. So, for just $15 a week per family, we each received a bounty of produce.

I have to admit we struck gold with our farm selection. Throughout their 21-week season, they offered a tremendous range of produce including familiar items we love like lettuces, onions, sugar snap peas, cauliflower, squash, etc. But they also offered produce that we weren’t as familiar with: kohlrabi, blue potatoes, fennel and arugula. I’ve heard some other friends who haven’t been as fortunate with their farm selections and have received nothing but lettuce, and others who get such strange crops that they’re not sure what to do with them.

So with that in mind, here are a few tips for finding a good CSA:

1) Determine what you want. Are you the adventurous type who wants to get unusual items all summer, or would you like to have more traditional crops?

2) Do your research. Investigate each farm you’re interested in and check their websites (or call) to find out about what types of crops they plant. My farm posts pictures of last season’s boxes so you get an idea of what to expect.

3) Look for the extras. Many CSAs will share newsletters, blogs and recipe ideas with their members. The best CSAs provide you with information on how to use your entire box each week. I found the blog my CSA produces invaluable when I was stuck on what to do with an unfamiliar item.

So, what do you think? Have you tried a CSA? Do you have a favorite farm to recommend? Or a farm we should avoid? Let’s hear it!

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