Get the Freshest of the Fresh with a Whidbey Island CSA

Posted in Culinary, More Stories, Spotlight

BY SUSAN WENZEL
Whidbey Life Magazine contributor
February 24, 2014

If an apple a day keeps the doctor away, a CSA share or “Community Supported Agriculture” share should send that same doctor straight to the poor house.

What the heck is a CSA anyway?

Imagine dining on locally grown, vitamin and flavor packed, naturally ripened, uber-fresh, sometimes-still-adorned-with-life-giving-soil, organic or close to it, seasonal produce once a week, spring through fall. Envision having the ability to put this food on the table without toiling for hours in a garden plot or stepping inside a supermarket with its harsh, glaring lights, shelves of cartoon character-adorned, preservative-filled packages and questionable sourcing and food handling practices.

A CSA includes all of this and more by dividing the projected annual harvest of one small, usually family-owned, local farm (or a couple in a co-op situation) into small portions or “subscriptions” which are offered to the public for a reasonable fee.

Tell me more about those shares.

A share is often available in different sizes, as a whole or half share or sometimes a shared share depending on the number of people each weekly bounty is destined to feed, the amount of product desired and the guidelines set forth by the farm.

The number of shares available per farm is dictated by the projected yield of the acreage planted and the success of prior years.

The price of the share is based on the calculated costs, quantity and variety of items included, current market prices of seed and produce, the number of weeks, organic or not and, sometimes, competitor pricing.

garlic

Garlic scapes from the Willowood Farm (photo by Susan Wenzel)

So what’s in it for me?

A CSA share usually consists of an assortment of fruits, vegetables, herbs, dried beans and grains and even fresh-cut flowers. Some might offer a dairy, egg or meat option. And, most have weekly “you pick” items, a “freebee” bin of excess or less than perfect specimens, educational classes and special member events. (In 2013, for example, Prairie Bottom Farm extended invitations to a CSA member potluck picnic, canning classes and a pumpkin patch ripe for the picking just in time for Halloween!)

Aside from the nutritional advantages, the ancillary benefits of having a veggie membership are these:

  • Local production of foodstuffs benefits the environment by reducing packaging materials and natural resource consumption and pollution attributed to shipping produce great distances.
  • Children big or small will have the opportunity to visit a farm and learn where their food originates (which encourages the pickiest of eaters to try new foods like rutabagas, sunchokes and kale).
  • Adults big or small can still answer burning questions about food safety and sourcing by seeing exactly how and where their produce is grown.
  • The weekly basket pickup times foster a greater sense of community as neighbors and friends meet over bins of collards and potatoes to discuss recipes, the weather and Grandpa’s bursitis.

How do I join?

All it takes to partake in this amazing and delicious opportunity is to find the right CSA (consider location, reputation, certified organic or not, types of products offered, length of season and price), pay the annual membership fee, made either in a single lump sum or several easy payments and wait.

Wait? I have to wait for my cabbages and carrots?

CSA shares are typically purchased in late winter or early spring before the first seed is even in the ground. In fact, the upfront payment frequently goes toward the purchase of those seeds and related supplies and equipment.

bushel of carrots

Fresh carrots (photo by Susan Wenzel)

A CSA membership is like any other investment; there is inherent risk involved and no guaranteed return. For example, yields may vary and even fall far short of goals, depending on a variety of factors. Crops have, since the beginning of time, been subject to the effects of weather, pests, natural disasters, disease and the whims and wiles of Mother Nature.

Last year this reporter had a CSA share and, aside from the challenge of wondering what to do with the odds and ends of the week (which I ultimately resolved by making huge pots of vegetable soup in my gorgeous Cook on Clay Flameware casserole), I found the concept of supporting my local farmer in good faith and feeding my family the best of the best of the best to be well worth the gamble…and the wait.

I’m sold. Where do I sign up?

Image at the top: fresh strawberries (photo by Susan Wenzel)

Susan Wenzel, food writer, believes in the power of locally produced food to fortify the health and wellbeing of both the individual and the community as a whole.

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