Community Supported Agriculture - CSA's
By KIM PIERCE
Special Contributor - Dallasnews.com
Published 05 April 2011 04:46 PM
CSAs, shorthand for Community Supported Agriculture farms, are a hot new way to enjoy a steady supply of local fruits and vegetables. The concept isn’t new but, as with farmers markets, interest in them has jumped.
Local Harvest, an organic- and local-food website that has the largest directory of CSAs in the country, underscores the point. In 2000, it started with 374 listings, says director Erin Barnett in an email. By 2008, that number jumped to 2,218 and nearly doubled to 4,100 as of today. About two dozen such farms are a reasonable commute from Dallas.
Here’s how they work: With a CSA, you’re actually investing in a farm. You pay up front, or at designated intervals, for a share of a farmer’s harvest. That makes you a member, or shareholder, in the CSA.
When things are ready to pick, you get a fixed portion each week over the course of the season, such as a grocery sack of fruits and veggies. Some CSA farms operate year-round and some offer options for meat, eggs and dairy products.
Joining a CSA “is not just about prepaying for some groceries,” cautions Marie Tedei, who runs the Eden’s Garden CSA Farm in Balch Springs.
“Your return on the investment is based on the crop that comes in,” she says. In other words, you share the risk with the farmer. If a plague of locusts takes out the okra or drought shrivels the tomatoes, you don’t get any, and you don’t get a refund.
“It’s a shared investment,” says Carol Moss, whose CSA farm is Moss Gathers in Celina. “They’re investing money. We’re investing time and work.”
At their best, CSAs let you enjoy a continuous stream of fresh produce that you had a part in creating. You get to know the farmer who’s growing your food, and you get to visit the farm. If you have kids, it’s an opportunity to give them a taste of farm life so they can learn firsthand where their food comes from.
What is a CSA farm?
Farms that participate in Community Supported Agriculture offer shares for people to buy in exchange for a portion of the harvest. CSA farms are not monitored or regulated by a government agency.
What can I expect to bring home?
“You’re really eating seasonally,” says Brian Cummings, who oversees EatGreenDFW, a website devoted to sustainable and local food. This means greens and onions in the spring and fall, and tomatoes in the summer. You don’t get to pick and choose; you get what the farmer grows. This invariably means unfamiliar items, Cummings says. You may find yourself wondering: What will I do with these heads of Chinese cabbage or this cucuzza squash? “It doesn’t look like supermarket stuff,” adds Cummings. Items may be blemished or misshapen, but that won’t affect the flavor. Most farms list what they grow on their website or on the Local Harvest website. Some plant heirloom and Slow Food Ark of Taste items. Some offer pastured meats, eggs and dairy products.
How much will I get?
The estimated size of weekly shares depends on the farmer and his goals, which each farmer spells out on his website or on the Local Harvest website. It might be couched in terms such as a bushel-full or three-quarters of a grocery sack. This is also where sharing the risk comes in. “If there’s a hailstorm, they might not get any vegetables one week,” says Cummings. Many farms designate a fixed size for shares and sell any excess they harvest at farmers markets.
How much does it cost?
This varies by farm. Some sell full shares for the prime growing season (April to August); some are year-round. Some offer half-shares. Sometimes the payment is required as a lump sum up-front, sometimes not. Oak Ridge Valley Farm Organics in Grand Saline requires $1,115 in return for a weekly “cooler-full” of fruits and vegetables, April through November. Humble Beginnings in McKinney asks for $375 down and $45 a month through 2011. “Some farms require work. Some don’t. We don’t require it, but we do offer work shares. For a few families, the only way to participate is work share,” says Marie Tedei of Eden’s Garden in Balch Springs.
Are the farms organic?
Oak Ridge Valley Farm Organics in Grand Saline and Good Earth Organic Farm in Celeste are the only certified organic CSA farms in North Texas, according to the Texas Department of Agriculture. “Some are Certified Naturally Grown through a farmer-rancher organization,” says Cummings. (The group’s website is www.naturallygrown.org.) These include Moss Gathers in Celina and Rose Creek Farms in Sunset. Some are in transition to organic. Most use sustainable farming methods. “We are almost totally petroleum-free,” says Foster Fogarty, owner of Family Farms CSA in Sherman. The farm does not even use a tractor, he says.
How do I get my fruits and vegetables?
Some farms, such as Mansion Farms in Roanoke, require you to come to the farm. Others offer drop-off points around the area. Comeback Creek in Pittsburg drops off at the Dallas Farmers Market and locations in East Texas. Oak Ridge Valley Farm Organics has drop-off points in Coppell, East Dallas and Plano.
How do I sign up?
Contact the farm you’re interested in to find out if there are shares available. Some take sign-ups only once a year. Some, such as Barking Cat Farm in Heath, have a perpetual waiting list. Many farms ask you to sign a contract so that all parties understand the shared-risk arrangement. Tedei goes a step further. “I ask that they come to a CSA orientation meet-and-greet.”
What should I look for?
Probably the best predictor of a successful CSA farm is past success. “A new farm carries more risk,” Tedei says, “because they don’t have a track record.” But it can be exciting to participate in a new CSA and share the ups and downs of a start-up. Local Harvest’s CSA listings have review sections, where you can read what past CSA shareholders have experienced. These are candid and usually include the farmer’s response.
How do I find CSA farms in North Texas?
The best source is www.localharvest.com. Choose the “all CSAs” button and insert either Dallas, Texas or your ZIP code in the search box. A few local CSA farms aren’t listed under the CSA heading, but you can find them on the site by name under the farms category. These include Squeezepenny Sustainable Farm in McKinney, which works more like a consortium of farmers; Fieldsong Farm in Lucas; Cold Springs Farm in Weatherford; and Peree Tov Farms in Springtown.