Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Reviews Of Local CSAs For Howard County

What do you think of your CSA?

I had thought that I would be a natural at "community supported agriculture."  I thought that I would post every week about my first year of CSA deliveries and what I had whipped up with the vegetables.

As summer closes, I haven't been inspired to post much.  The drought made it had a hard year to farm, and I knew that I was buying into the risk/reward of a real share.

But I haven't done much more than cut up vegetables this summer.  We eat tomatoes with salt, maybe some cubed cucumber and mint.  We cherished baby lettuces at the start and the melon this week, and I was completely amused by the eggs that I got through a fluke.  But I have been a bit puzzled about what to do with four carrots or two beets or a dozen green beans.  I'm not planning right.  Or I'm not prepared with recipes.  So I'm puzzled and wondering if a CSA delivery is smart for me if I have to go shopping after work to create a meal.

What has your CSA delivered this year?  Would you do it again?  How are you using the vegetables?  Do you keep basics on hand so that you have what you need?  How do you use small amounts?

I'm still figuring out my thoughts for 2011.  Howard County has a bunch of CSA options.  I started small this year, encouraged by a place where I could pick up in the evening.  But I may need to go big and get deliveries like Sarah Says posts about.  I would have to figure out a way to pick up at one of the established places like Gorman Produce Farm or Shaw Farm, the Columbia farm whose manager has posted comments on HowChow.

(Update: For 2011, check out my February 2011 post about CSAs.  Please add your reviews there.  I'd love to know what you recommend.)

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

I love my CSA deliveries - they are the highlight of my work week! I choose a full share (for 2 people) from One Straw Farm because Gorman Farm was sold out. I pick up my share on Thursday evenings, which works out perfectly for meal planning/grocery shopping for recipe ingredients on the weekend. In addition to yummy veggies that I was famaliar with, I've been introduced to lots of delicious new veggies like garlic scapes, patty pan, certain greens, radishes (who knew braised radishes were so good?) etc. I think my favorite part is not selecting the food, but instead finding fun recipes to use the food with. I've relied heavily on "Clean food", "clean eating magazine", "How to cook everything vegetarian" and the simply recipes blog!

Thanks so much for your informative post on CSAs that led me to One Straw Farm!

Sarah said...

I use One Straw Farm as well-- we don't get deliveries; I pick 'em up at MOMs on Wednesdays. Planning is essential, but our big weapon is Allrecipes ingredient search. You can type in carrots and beets and get, oh, hey, this salad that has 4.5 stars. (Granted, it takes four beets, but I'm sure you could get away with two). I've learned really interesting ways to use the veggies we get, like cooking lettuce as you would any other green leafy vegetable. Substituting and using recipes that are forgiving are also key.

I will also say it's easier with practice-- this is our third year with One Straw Farm. We know now, for example, that when we get lots of greens early on, we're having quiche.

Now, when our CSA is over, we just look at the grocery store aisles, bemused, because we have no jumping off point to make meals! What do we have for dinner?

Anon2 said...

I'm interested to see that you can choose an option for 2 people, that's great! I went with Orchard Farm and have mixed feelings. Some items were great, some not so good, quantities varied like you experienced, Howchow. And I don't know what to blame on the weather and what has to do with the farm. I LOVE the concept though. I truly want to support small farmers. Maybe I'll try another farm for next year, before I give up and just shop at the Howard County Farmer's Market.

emkenton said...

We've really enjoyed our full share at Gorman Farm! I know the heat has been troublesome for the farmers this year, but we always seemed to get an abundance of items-- enough that I had trouble keeping up. While they have had such wonderful growth in their stand sales, as well as sales to restaurants, they always tend to their CSA customers first, so we've often gotten items that were not for sale to the non-CSA public. We've also gotten 2 jars of honey along the way, which has been a delightful treat.

The staff is helpful and easy-going, and they offer a 10% discount for CSA members on anything extra purchased at the farm stand. They provide a weekly newsletter with at least one recipe and a report on how the crops are doing. I love supporting this family business!

(Where I've failed is making use of the Vegetables Every Day cookbook I bought last year upon your recommendation. Hope I can be better about utilizing that this fall!!)

Anonymous said...

This is a timely question because I am making my last payment to Martin Herb Farm's CSA today and enclosing a letter with it expressing our dissapointment with the quality of food we are getting. This is our second year doing a CSA and last year we used Dragonfly Farm. The produce with Dragonfly was of a very high quality and was always varied and interesting. This year we changed CSAs because Martin Herb lets you select from a list of everything they have available each week, which I thought would be nice since I was puzzled by what to do with some of the things we got in abundance last year. Their season also runs until the week of Thanksgiving and that makes it less expensive by the week. However, the quality of food is not as good by a long shot. For example, the peaches we have received have been mealy and flavorless, the apples completely bruised and soft, the potatoes rotten in the bag, and the tomatoes bland and also very quick to rot. Next year we will certainly select a different CSA to work with or I may do a visit to a farmers market as a part of our weekend routine instead.

P90 Noir said...

I did the Breezy Willow CSA (it's a group of farmers). I've been picking up weekly at Fulton Elem and it's been really good for the most part. As part of the CSA, you get eggs and bread. And you can order meat and cheese to pick up at the CSA drop.

Overall, the produce has been very high quality and plenty for a family of four. My only complaints would be that 1. I never got fingerling potatoes, and 2. the tomatoes were just ok. Luckily we grew tomatoes at home...

On the extreme plus side, my daughters are crazy about the challah bread and one week the peaches were the second best I have ever had.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with the person about Martin Herb Farms. This is my first year with a CSA and it was somewhat disappointing. Some of the produce is not in good shape when you get it and most of it only lasts a couple of days before it is rotten. I was also disappointed with the selection. The farm did not offer most of the fruits and veggies on the their selection list. I am not sure if that is due to the weather or if they did not offer their CSA members the same variety of produce that they sold at their farmers markets. We liked the concept of a CSA so we will try a different one next year.

Summer R said...

I have to agree with Anonymous 7:02 and Sarah. I am in the middle of my first year with a CSA and I chose One Straw Farm (thanks you your post on Howard County CSA).

I have to say it has surpassed my expectations. What I really love about it is the excitement of not knowing what you will get and then looking up recipes and deciding what to make with what you do get! It also is making it fun (if a little stressful) to incorporate a much better variety of vegetables in my diet.

I thank Sarah for her blog about what she has done with her shares because it has given me some great ideas.

I will definitely be signing up for One Straw Farm again. I have good things about Willow Breeze Farm, but they are more expensive. Plus, the One Straw Farm pickup at MOM's in Jessup has been really convenient!

Anonymous said...

We also agree about Martin Herb Farms. It was our first year and disappointing! The produce selection is not what they marketed and has gotten boring over the weeks. It isn't fun to find new recipies anymore. We will not do it next year...

Jennifer said...

I split a share at Dragonfly Farm this year and have to say it was a bit disappointing. The cost was a bit higher than other area CSAs but we thought the variety would be worth it. Each week the variety was wonderful (fruits and veggies at least like 10 kinds) but the amount and quality were only OK. I felt for over $40/delivery (total not half) that we should have received more - for example corn in season is worth about $2/half dozen - we received a half dozen so just $2 worth, if you tally up the value of the produce received it was nowhere near $40 :(. In addition, I felt though many times we received veggies which were farmer's market rejects - some not all of the veggies were bruised, or extremely ripe, greens were wilted, etc. I realize that farm-fresh produce isn't gleaming and clean like at the grocery store but I regularly shop at the Baltimore Farmers Market so I am definitely aware of what's out there seasonally. In any case, it was a fun experience but for the price I'd rather just keep going to the Farmer's Market on Sundays!

Anonymous said...

We use Breezy Willow Farm, and if you pick it up at the farm, you select the produce yourself. I've been very happy with the quality - very fresh - and the variety. The pickup today was peaches, nectarines, gala apples, asian pears, butternut squash, beets, fingerling potatoes, green beans, plus a loaf of bread and a dozen eggs. It works out to be about $35 per week, and I think it is worth is. It is all integrated pest management or organic as well.

Rachel said...

We love Orchard Country Produce, with pickup at the East Columbia Library. They have half shares and full shares, are affordable, and offer an incredible variety, including lots of fruit! I encourage you to try them out! http://www.orchcountry.com/ They also have great grass fed beef you can purchase as an extra.

Michelle From TX said...

We also use Orchard Country Produce, and pickup at the East Columbia Library on Thursdays. With our schedules and just the lack of CSA openings, Orchard Country was the easiest choice. We bought half-shares for the past few months, but put it on pause recently (we have a newborn, and we've missed out on our pickups a few times). We're still going every Thursday to pick out produce, simply because we want to buy fresh and "local" produce. CSAs have helped us in trying new produce we've never tried before!

veggiemom said...

This is my second year with Breezy Willow and it has exceeded my expectations in quality, variety (lots of fruit), quantity and bread selection. If this wasn't enough the farm family is just so friendly and informative. My favorite CSA items this year were the strawberries (bought extra), peaches, nectarines, and tomatoes. I look forward to pick up where I can select my own items from their produce bins which allows me choices like to pick ripe peaches vs. hard peaches if I want to eat them right away. I appreciate that they are a Howard County family run farm (west friendship). Their goal is to support HC farming by linking with other HC farmers to provide a wide variety of produce and help grow our county's farming community. With the high price of HC land, I applaud their efforts to keep our county's farming families in business. Plus, buying food from a HC farm cuts down on my carbon footprint becz the produce is not shipped by truck from miles away. Also, they make their own honey. A friend recommended I use the Breezy Willow honey to help my three kids & hubby who suffer from seasonal allergies - 1 teaspoon a day b4 allergy season began. The honey must be from bees that produce honey within a few miles from your home. It worked like a charm. Will continue with Breezy Willow as long as they are in business.

Chris said...

I am a member of Breezy Willow's CSA, and I love it. The produce is either organic or IPM (integrated pest management) and ALL is from MD farmers.

They are a "value added" CSA, so in addition to my 8 fruits/veggies, a dozen eggs and a loaf of bread from Great Harvest, AND...all the herbs I can pick, I can also choose to purchase fresh cheeses, beef, chicken, pork or lamb, also all from local farmers. (don't get me started on the cheese - all I can say is "WOW")

The one thing you have to remember about a CSA is you (like the farmer) are at the whims of mother nature. If they get a bounty, you can share in that...if the weather is mercurial, you also share in that. If one crop fizzles, you may not get the variety you wanted, but you may get another variety that came in like gangbusters. You are supporting *local* agriculture - keep that in mind, and you will have a long and happy relationship with whatever CSA you choose.

I love the variety I get with my CSA. I love eating fresh veggies...and I mean fresh. I think I bought out their stock of dinosaur plums in the summer which were AMAZING, and I kept begging to buy some extra onions in the late summer/fall, because they were THAT GOOD.

Breezy Willow Farm is a great CSA - I have no complaints. They are honest, hardworking,friendly people and always willing to share some wisdom and advice, whether it be how to cook some new squash, or get a bushel of seconds for that peach jam you've had a hankering for.

If you have kids, you can bring them to the farm to see the sheep/chickens/rabbits, and they can have an ice pop while you pick your produce. It's a great way to keep them occupied on a summer afternoon!