This is the time of year that many people begin looking for a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program for next year. That may seem strange to some… thinking about getting next summers produce, but from a farmer’s point of view… now’s the time.
Many seed, greenhouse supply and agricultural companies offer substantial discounts to farmers/producers for getting orders in before the end of the year. This can mean big money saved to farmers and major financial help to others, especially new/beginning farmers. Not only that, but meat and dairy producers are looking at feed costs and amounts of livestock needed for next season.
Most farmers plan and place seed orders by the end of November. Plans for ordering next years Thanksgiving turkeys are being thought out right now. How many meat birds and laying hens will be needed to supply the demand the following year. Quantities of feed they’ll need to secure for their livestock. These are all important factors being considered by farmers/producers as I write this.
I thought now would be a great time to share some tips on choosing a C.S.A and what to look for when hunting down the perfect farm for you!
1. Types of CSA’s. Determine what you’re looking for before you go on the hunt. This will allow you to do custom Google searches. Here are a few of the more common types you may consider when starting your search.
2. Questions to consider when deciding on the CSA program you want to meet your individual/family needs.
**Do you want organic products or is that not relevant to you? Does Organic certification make a difference?
My personal note here is, that it is important to know your farmer/producer. Organic certification is not geared to small, family run farms and can be very cost prohibitive to them.
*Do you want home delivery? Do you want to pick up at your local farmers market?
*What are all the delivery options?
*Does the potential farm have multiple share size options to fit your individual/family size?
*Do you want to participate in a work share program if that’s an opportunity? This would entail doing labor on the farm or market location in exchange for the food or discount off the share.
*Do you want to help support a small family run farm or a large multi-member farm?
*Does the potential farm allow payments? credit card payment? Discounts for full pay before a certain date?
*How many share members does the potential farm allow each season? When is the cut off date?
*Does the farm have a web site to view their products, farm photo’s, etc.? Does it have a Facebook page where members can communicate between each other and their farmers?
*Are you picky eaters? Do you cook? Do you ‘want’ to cook?
*Does the farm have ‘customizable’ share options? Will you be able to swap out things you don’t care for?
*Is it a pre-pack (shares packed and ready for pick up) or a U-Pack (You get to choose between specific items for your share)?
*Does the potential farm have an on site farm stand?
**Does the farm allow for visits? does it have a ‘field day’ where members are invited to attend?
With regards to this last item, I’d like to defend some farmers stand on this… being a farmer myself 😉 Farmer’s have families and lives outside of their business life and it’s not always convenient to have people ‘popping’ in. I always suggested to the ‘curious’ potential members if they allowed their clients or customers to just pop into their homes unannounced? Suddenly the reality of the request became a little bit more realistic. Most farmers aren’t trying to ‘hide’ anything, it’s simply a matter of privacy and having a life of their own. Also, many people don’t understand the dangers on a farm, especially around equipment and with children. Additional insurance is required when allowing people to come onto the farm. So please don’t judge a farmer harshly just because they don’t offer ‘unannounced pop-ins’.
3. Sources to find CSA programs. Here are a few reliable sources to begin your research.
If you have the opportunity to visit the potential farm/er at a local farmers market that they participate in, I suggest you go early in the morning. Most members try to pick up their shares earlier and this would give you an opportunity to see how the farmers relate to their members. You’d also have the chance to talk to other members, which the farmers usually love. The members will be able to give you an actual ‘review’ of how they like the share and the farm/er. You would be able to see the produce available and the additional things they offer, like meat, eggs, flowers, etc.
Finding a Community Supported Agriculture program that will fit your families/individual needs can be a challenge, but if you go on the hunt prepared and understanding what you’re looking for, it won’t be so daunting.