Today is National CSA Day. A friendly reminder from that spring is coming and this is the best time to buy your 2016 CSA share.
I’m not as obsessed about what I’m eating for dinner tonight, but what I’m going to eat once the growing season gets into full swing here in the Garden State. My carefully prepared cache of eggplants, tomatoes and greens from last summer’s harvest has, alas, almost vanished from the freezer. I’m coveting fresh, exciting produce and a source to easily get my mitts on it.
One way to ensure access to excellent produce is to subscribe to a farm’s CSA program. Community Supported Agriculture is a way to support a local farmer by agreeing to buy a weekly share of their produce for a season. Buying in before the growing season allows the farmer to plan and purchase supplies for the year. Many farms offer incentives and discounts for signing up early. Signing on now gives the customer ample time to dream up all the different ways to cook produce that arrives in weekly allotments. The length of share season varies from farm to farm, with most running from June to November.
When choosing a CSA, there are a few variables to consider. If eating organic is important to you, you can find a CSA that is certified organic or uses organic practices, which means it relies on eco-friendly practices including biological pest management and exclusion of all synthetic chemicals, antibiotics and hormones. This is a great opportunity to talk directly to your farmer about how they grow their crops and raise their livestock.
How much do you like to cook? A full share will feed a family of three or four. A halfor single share serves one or two. Once the season gets rolling, the amount of produce you receive can be daunting if you are not prepared. This should be a fun experience, not a stressful one. Prepare a cache of recipes before you are inundated with more zucchini than you know how to handle. Add a few vegetable-centric books to your library, although most CSAs include recipes with their share, and some have potluck events for members to mingle and share cooking tips.
Traditionally, CSA shares have been a one size fits all box of the week. Expect a delivery of everything that is freshest that week in the field. This season, a new market style CSA is picking up in popularity. Members can prepay a debit card for their account and visit the farm at a farmers market to pick only the crops they want for the week. This may be ideal for those who travel often or have picky eaters to contend with at home.
Some farms require participants visit the farm for their weekly pickup, but there are often farm animals for the kids to enjoy, and many have shops that sell products made from their harvest. Some CSA programs offer pickup options at farmers markets, members’ homes or convenient business locations. Many programs offer add-on options of fruit, eggs, meat, seafood, mushrooms, honey, bread, dairy, flowers, soap, prepared foods, event tickets and class subscriptions. A pick-your-own option of select crops is also offered by some farmers.
A few hours of work on the farm per week or season is a requirement at some farms. This helps reduce labor costs for the farmer. The added opportunity to pick your own flowers and some vegetables is a way for you to play farmer for a few glorious hours. Once you are out there, you will begin to appreciate how hard and rewarding the work can be.
Investing in a CSA is a bit like playing the stock market. A single hailstorm or heat wave can wipe out a whole crop. Yet in the same season, conditions might be excellent for other crops. You’ll find yourself wondering how the arugula fared after a big rain. Sharing the highs and lows of the farm’s season brings you closer to the land.
From Chinese greens to chiogga beets, explore the range of veggies and fruits grown right here in New Jersey by signing up for a farm share. Shares sell out fast, so plan on securing your share pretty darned quick!
A Selection of New Jersey's CSA Programs
Aspen Ridge Farm
Pickup: On farm, Madison, Princeton
Features: Chicken & Eggs, Pork, Veal
Chickadee Creek Farm
Pickup: On farm, Denville, Montgomery, Princeton, Rutgers Gardens
Features: Certified organic, market share, pick your own for members
Cooperative 518 Community Farm
Pickups: On farm, Highland Park
Features: Box & market shares, add on berries, eggs, classes
Pickup: On farm
Features: Boxed shares. produce, meat shares -chicken, pork, lamb, beef
Pickup: On farm, Asbury Park
Features: Produce, add on goats milk soaps, bread, meat shares, condiments.
Green Duchess Farm
Pickup: On farm, Sea Bright
Features: Box share. Chicken, pork.
Great Road Farm
Pickup: On farm
Features: Box share. Heirloom produce
Honey Brook Organic Farm
Pickup: On farm and over 30 locations
Features: pick your own options
Melick’s Town Farm
Pickup: Bridgewater, Califon, Hoboken, Madison, Oldwick
Features: tree fruit and veggies
Pickup: On farm, Burlington County, Point Pleasant Beach, Westmont Farmers Markets
Features: Market share. Flowers! Peaches! Vegetables, fruit.
Circle Brook Farm (formerly Starbrite Farm)
Pickup: On farm. Jersey City, Morristown, Westfield.
Features: Certified organic. Vegetables, herbs, melons. Add on fruit share.
Von Thun Farms
South Brunswick, Washington
Pickup: Monmouth On both farms and other host locations
Features: add on fruit shares
* Visit the farm websites for most current information on pricing, crops grown, length of season and pickup information.
For more CSA programs near you, visit: