How to pick the CSA that's right for you

The warm weather is finally arriving, thank heavens, and it’s time for new growth out there.  We'll need to wait awhile longer for the farm markets to open, but it's the right time to join a CSA, if you're so inclined.

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a way to ensure a regular supply of locally grown food for you and your family, while giving farmers the money they need to get the growing season started.

When you join a CSA, you usually pay a chuck of money early in season.  Once the food starts growing, the farmer provides you a weekly share of food.

Photo: Courtesy of Sugarbush Farms, Schroon Lake, Essex County.

Finding the right farm

There are at least 13 CSA farms in St. Lawrence County alone.  So, how do you choose which one is right for you?

I asked Aviva Gold, director of GardenShare, about it.  She says it takes a little research.

"Every CSA is different.  Every farmer is different.  They all produce different products.  They have different payment structures.  Some of them like to get paid up front, some let you spread your payments out."

Plus, she says each CSA farm offers something different.  Do you want vegetables, meat, or honey (or all 3)?

"The best thing to do is to call and talk to the farmer.  They usually can tell you what their weekly share looks like.  And talk to other people who've used the same CSA."

Gold admits, it sounds like a bit of a hassle.  But she says you get the freshest food, help the environment, and support the local economy.

You also get to know a farmer. 

It was easy to find a list of CSAs online -  GardenShare and Adirondack Harvest each list farms in the counties they serve.  I kind of randomly called Sugarbush Farm in Schroon Lake in Essex County, and was delighted to talk with Jennifer Otruba, who raises animals (and children!) with her husband John.

Sugarbush runs two CSA programs per year.  In winter, they offer meat from pastured Berkshire pigs.  Now they're taking summer memberships, and will start offering grass fed beef and heritage breed chicken and eggs in July.

The Otruba’s get top dollar for their products from tourists and others at the farm Schroon Lake market, but Jennifer says they offer members a much better deal, "The CSA offers a lower price for people in the community.  It's a way to keep a connection, and offer healthy products."

Sugarbush offers a monthly summer share for $80.  Customers can also order a half share – or a double share.  Jennifer says this is their second official year, and business is good.

So, if you're thinking about a CSA, it just takes a quick call to find out more, and connect with other folks who care about food and the local economy.

Aviva Gold at GardenShare says, "It is a little bit different than how we're used to buying food.  But there are all kinds of great reasons to purchase food this way."

GardenShare’s 2013 local food guide, which lists area CSAs and other pertinent food and farm information, will be available in May.

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