3/14/2013 - Navigating the produce section at the grocery story can be a daunting task as you try to figure out what’s fresh and in season while avoiding pesticides and genetically modified organisms. But community supported agriculture makes it possible — and even convenient — to get local and organic produce.
Better known as CSAs, these programs have gained popularity within the last decade as a way for customers to buy seasonal food directly from the farmers. A farmer offers a certain number of shares, or memberships, to the public. The shares usually consist of a variety of vegetables, though other items like bread, flowers, milk or eggs may be included as well. Customers who purchase shares pick up seasonal produce once a week at the farm or another designated location throughout the season, which typically runs from June to October.
Prices generally range from $150 for a half share to $500 for a full share, depending upon the farm, the amount of produce and the length of the season. With most CSAs, the weekly allotment includes whichever produce is growing well — customers do not get to pick and choose and can end up with favorites as well as produce they may have never tried before.
Alice Tuson, who runs Red Manse Farm in Loudon with her husband, Earl, offers both a CSA and a Farm Patron program, both of which are currently open for enrollment for the 2013 season. CSA customers of the certified organic farm can pick up their weekly produce from four locations around the area, including Auburn and Pembroke, while Farm Patron members get a debit card and pick up their produce at the farm.
“We encourage our customers to ask questions, so they get to know us and where their food is coming from,” she said, noting that not all CSA farms offer organic produce. “People want to know, and we enjoy talking face to face with our customers. It is interactive.”
The Red Manse CSA offers what Tuson calls “mostly traditional” vegetables, including peppers, green and wax beans, beets, rhubarb, garlic, lettuce, onions, strawberries and more, though they do add various types of collards and chards.
“We do include some unusual vegetables occasionally to get people to try different things. We stick with the traditional and add variety here and there. We understand there are people that can get too much kale or not enough,” she added.
Early on in the season, the packages are dominated by greens before other vegetables are ready.
“Some vegetables take time to grow,” Tuscon said.
Later in the season, squash, potatoes and beets are added into the mix.
Red Manse offers maple syrup and shiitake mushrooms in their shares as well and can help coordinate meats and dairy with other local farmers.
Michelle Descoteaux and her husband Keith of Still Seeking Farm in Gilmanton are offering a CSA program for the first time this year. The couple moved to the farm two years ago from a smaller farm, and their first try at growing on the 15-acre parcel wasn’t the most successful. However, they got some tips from Daniel Kitteridge, executive director of the Bionutrient Food Association.
“If you feed the soil, you improve the quality of the food you are eating,” Descoteaux said, “And in 2012, we grew an amazing amount of vegetables.”
As this is the pilot year, the season will be broken down into four sessions with a limited amount of full and half shares available in each. The farm is currently accepting applications and will keep enrollment open until all of the shares are purchased. Customers pay in advance and have a designated amount of time to spend their money on whatever they want. This is a little bit different than a traditional CSA.
“We want customers to be able to get what they want, not what they don’t want,” she said. “Customers can also purchase our maple syrup and granola by being full-share members and save on additional products at the farm.”
Pick-up will occur at two different farmers’ markets, and delivery is available within 15 miles of the farm for an additional charge.
In addition to offering standard items like lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, kale and asparagus, Still Seeking Farm, certified organic, is also growing leeks, scallions and a sweet red onion from Italy this year.
“We encourage people to come and see us. Call ahead to make sure someone is here, and we will go out and cut the vegetables so you know they are fresh and you get the full benefit,” Descoteaux said.
Applications for these CSAs and others around the area are available online. For more CSA listings in New Hampshire, visit www.localharvest.org/csa