The ABCs of CSAs

There’s a lot of talk about food these days, from eating locally and growing and preserving your own food to concerns about genetically modified organisms (GMOs), a push for organics, and reducing food waste.  Meanwhile, access to fresh and local food has never been easier with farmers markets and community supported agriculture (CSAs) popping up all over the District and on the Hill! A CSA is a network of individuals who pledge to support one or more local farms and whereby growers and consumers share risks and benefits of food production. Originating in Switzerland and Japan in the 1960s, CSAs came to the US from Europe in the mid-1980s.  The idea has taken root and flourished with the number of CSAs operating in the US has grown from some 400 in 1993 to an estimated 12,617 farms in 2012.

Most CSAs offer summer and fall food shares of varying sizes that can be picked up at the farm, at a neighborhood pick up point, or sometimes delivered to your home.  The number of shares available is often limited and based on the farm’s estimated production. Most CSAs require payment for the entire season in advance. While CSAs tend to sell out of shares, some groups operating on the Hill still have openings for the summer 2015 season.  

Not all CSAs are created equal, so it’s worth shopping around to learn what amenities any one CSA offers.  In addition to varying share sizes, some CSAs only sell vegetables, while others offer fruit, bread, flowers, eggs, cheese and/or meat options.  Some CSAs offer flexibility in the type and quantities of produce you receive. Some will allow you to opt out of a certain number of weeks so that you aren’t paying for a share when you’re out of town. Some CSAs offer only organic produce while others stress that their produce comes from local farms where pesticide use is minimal. Local Harvest (www.localharvest.org) provides a nationwide zip code and city-based guide for locating CSAs, farmers markets, and restaurants grocery stores that feature local food. Here is a summary of a few of the CSA and CSA type options available on Capitol Hill.  

Maryland based Dragonfly Farms (www.dffarms.com) is somewhat unique in that their CSA includes fruits as well as vegetables. They have a pickup stations on the 300 block of N. Carolina Ave.SE and another near 8th and M Street SE on Saturday mornings.  They only offer one share size.   Their website notes, “Some of our fruit and veggies are grown by local Maryland farmers.”

Farm to Family (www.thefarmbus.com) is a non-profit based in Richmond, Virginia that operates as a sort of mobile farmers market buying produce from local farms and selling it out of a bus primarily through CSA subscriptions.  Education is a part of their mission, and they offer workshops and talks on local food and sustainability.  It’s unfortunate that they choose to advertise on the Hill by leaving leaflets in plastic packaging on our front gates. Capitol Hill pickups are on Tuesdays from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m. at Stanton Park and from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. at Eastern Market.

Food waste is a hot topic these days with the United Nations Environment Programme estimating that 30 – 40 percent of the US food supply is wasted with much of it ending up in landfills where it generates methane and other greenhouse gases. Meanwhile, according to Feeding America, in 2013, 14 percent of US households were food insecure. Hungry Harvest (www.hungryharvest.net) attempts to address these issues by recovering surplus produce (extra or oddly shaped produce) from Maryland and Pennsylvania farms and delivering it to your door. For every bag delivered, a matching donation of food is made on your behalf to Capitol Area Food Bank, DC Central Kitchen, and Martha’s Table among others.  The cost of their CSA subscription is less than many others.

Middleburg, Virginia based Little Farm Stand (www.littlefarmstand.com) offers free delivery to any home or office within Washington DC. They focus on pesticide-free vegetables, but also offer beef and free range eggs. Your CSA share functions as a gift card and you can use your balance on any product during the 20 week season --a great option for those who travel during the summer. 

In addition to providing you with good locally grown food, CSAs also put you in touch with our local growing cycle.  You’ll have lots of greens in the spring and early summer while you’ll need to wait until late July and August to be rich in tomatoes.  So, enjoy, eat locally, and support local farms – and try out a CSA!

Catherine Plume is a lifelong environmentalist, recycler, gardener, dog lover, and cyclist.  She blogs for the DC Recycler; www.derecycler.blogspot.com; twitter: @dc_recycler


Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.