Eight years ago, if you’d started talking to me about “your CSA,” I wouldn’t have had a clue what you were talking about. Regardless of growing up out in farm country (such a thing does exist in New Jersey, I swear!), or perhaps because I grew up in farm country, I’d never been exposed to this concept. Farm stands, yes. Farmers markets, yes. But a CSA? No.
This all changed in my adult life, out here in the suburbs of New York City. I was spending a lot of time with some good friends – actually, the household of my meditation teacher – who had signed up for a local farm share. I was often eating meals at this house, and I really appreciated the large variety of really high-quality produce. I’ve always been a vegetable fan; I was vegetarian for a decade, not driven by morals, but by personal taste. That year of hanging around Heather’s kitchen introduced me to new ways of preparing the bounty, like making homemade kale chips. (They seem ubiquitous now, but they were novel at the time!) It also introduced me to new and strange offerings, like ground cherries.
By the end of the season, I was sold. I needed to jump on this bandwagon, and I signed up for the CSA that her household used: the Bloomfield-Montclair CSA. There are several different styles of CSAs, I know that now, but I dove headfirst into the way this one was (and is) run. We sign up in late winter – late February or early March (though often you can grab a spot even this late. Hint, hint – if you’re in the area and considering it, check to see if there are still openings). We pay for the entire season up front, and from June through November, we bring grocery bags to a pickup site and take our share of vegetables from bins that are set out. A fruit share can likewise be purchased, as well as eggs and poultry. It’s always a glorious feeling to gather up the abundance all summer with no further cost and to watch my regular grocery bills bottom out.
Now, years later, I’ve discovered that there are variations on this theme. Some CSA models do a pre-packed box of vegetables. Many of these offer different “sizes” of shares. A friend of mine participated in a farm share in South Orange that works this way. Coeur et Sol – the source for my second CSA share – is similar. Some offer delivery. Some offer more customization. So, like many things, if you know where to look, you can find farm shares that fit your needs and lifestyle.
Below are links to some of the options around here. It’s by no means exhaustive. I’m partial to both Bloomfield-Montclair and Coeur et Sol, but if you’re interested in signing up, I encourage you to explore your options.
There are many, many upsides to joining a CSA. I’ve already mentioned the financial aspect. (Really, the value ends up being incredible. Organic vegetables that are higher quality than those in the grocery store for less than I’d be paying there.) The second consideration is the direct impact that a CSA has on the individual farmer. There’s no middle man; with your share price, you’re directly supporting a person’s livelihood. The farmer for Bloomfield-Montclair actually is located very near to my childhood home, which makes me doubly sentimental about keeping it local. Thirdly, we can get the high quality produce that I was used to out in the country, despite living in dense suburbs. Fourth, I’ve made incredible friendships with like-minded people through our interactions at pickup. In fact, I wrote a guest blog post about this for Coeur et Sol last year. Additionally, my horizons have been expanded thanks to creative farmers; I’ve learned about all sorts of produce I never knew existed. This novelty directly led to the existence of this blog, as I explore all of the ways to use this variety and abundance of produce.
One last pitch for keeping it local before I wrap this up. If you’re not in the market for a CSA share, try to patronize a local farmers market. Some local, regularly occurring ones are:
Montclair – Walnut St. train station on Saturday mornings
West Orange – Starting May 18th – 80 Main St. on Saturday mornings
Crane Park (Montclair) – Corner of Glendridge Ave and Greenwood Ave, across from the Geyer Y – Sunday mornings
Please feel free to comment with any others that I’ve missed!