The season of summer bounty may seem far off, but it happens to be National CSA Sign-Up Day!
A dreary grey day in late February may not seem like the most logical time to start thinking about fresh farm produce, but in fact it is. The last Friday in February, which happens to be February 23rd this year, is National CSA Sign-Up Day.
CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture and refers to an arrangement in which individuals purchase a 'share' in a farmer's crop ahead of time and receive a weekly delivery of fresh, local food throughout the predetermined time period. Usually it is all vegetables, but a CSA share could also include or be based on meat, eggs, grains, fish, or flowers.
A CSA share benefits home cooks by providing them with a steady source of top-notch seasonal ingredients. I've been a member of the same CSA for the past seven years and it has been a wonderful experience. I never run out of food. There's a constant incentive to use up vegetables before the next batch arrives, which pushes my family to eat more vegetables. We are more adventurous in the kitchen, trying new foods that we normally wouldn't be able to find at the store, like watermelon radishes, mustard greens, and fresh fava beans.
At the same time, CSA shares help farmers by guaranteeing a source of income for the whole season. The upfront payment helps the farmer to secure seeds and equipment. There is no middleman taking a cut of the profits, and the farmer is assured support regardless of the effect of weather on crops. Although you might feel you're taking a risk spending money on food ahead of time, keep in mind that different vegetables like different conditions, so if the tomato crop is poor for a few weeks, the salad greens might do very well instead. It's all part of the experience.
Check out the following fun graphic from CSA Day and click here for a list of participating farms. You can also ask around your local farmer's market to get connected.