While you may not realize it, the Accidental Locavore has never formally been a part of a CSA (a CSA, if you're not familiar with it, stands for community sponsored agriculture and is essentially a pre-paid pot-luck share of the farm's bounty). Mostly I was spoiled in the beginning by having my own personal farmer/shopper/CSA with my farmer down the road. What he didn't have (which was very little) I could always supplement with an occasional trip to the Greenmarkets in the city. And last year, when he gave up farming, I transferred my loyalties to Ron at Stokes Farm who would put bags together for me at the market (and has now turned into his Thyme Saver Box). As good as that was, one of the things that was missing, was the pure surprise of just being handed a box (or bag) of veggie goodies. In other words, I had a little too much say in what went into the bags, so there were never really any big food challenges.
This year, we're up at our Hudson Valley house full time and while I could try to expand my herb garden, my history with growing edible food is not confidence building. In other words, if we were alone in the world, you would not want to be handing me the bag of seeds and a shovel. Better left to the professionals! But which professionals? We're fortunate to have a lot of really wonderful farms near us and most of them offer CSAs. These were my criteria for picking one, and while yours will probably be different, these can be some guidelines:
- A convenient pick-up place, day and time. You need to think about where and when you want to have an abundance of produce. Do you cook and entertain during the weekends? Or will you use it mostly during the week? When will you have time to wash/prep stuff? Do you have fridge space?
- A reasonable share for two people. I hate wasting food and sometimes feel like the kitchen version of the Sorcerer's Apprentice-cooking as fast as I can, only to have a whole new box show up.
- For some, organic is important; I'm more into sustainable practices (you never know what the guy next door is flooding the water table with...), but if organic matters, only look for those farmers.
- A farmer/farm referral. Like most business relationships, it's all about doing business with people you know and like. The CSA that I went with is being run by a woman I know (extra points for being a female farmer) and like, both personally and her agricultural point of view.
- Giving back to the community. This is more of an extra credit thing, but this farm/CSA is in the middle of an urban area and gives back through education and by providing produce to local families.
- What foodstuffs you're looking for. Since we've got a freezer full of beef (from our share from Brykill Farm), we were looking mostly for produce. However, there are many that offer meat, poultry and other foods in combination. A few minutes on the Internet should find you just what you need.