Monday, January 21, 2013

'Tis The Season To Think Summer Vegetables

The CSA board at Gorman Farm
The cold still hasn't really arrived, but now is the time to think about summer vegetables and sign up for a CSA.

Community Supported Agriculture is a fancy term for season-long plans where you pay a farmer now and pick up vegetables all season long.  We signed up to split a third year with RDAdoc, but you have options around here -- farms from Laurel to West Friendship, pickups in Columbia, Elkridge, and Fulton.

To start, check out AnnieRie's posts about CSAs on AnnieRie Unplugged.  Scan down for great information about local farms and AnnieRie's analysis of costs and benefits.  Plus, she blogs about her cooking.  She shows what she got -- mostly from the Sandy Spring CSA.  Similarly, Kat blogs on Kitchen Scribble with photos and story about what she got from Breezy Willow farm.

My big question is whether you're amused by the idea of getting a box of vegetables every week.  CSAs are about giving up control.  You depend on the season, the weather, and the farmer's choice of products.  It's fun for people who want to look into the box and break out a cookbook to see what they can make.

If that's you, then check local options like this:
  • Gorman Farm in Laurel runs a CSA. They're signing up returning members now and will open to everyone soon.  We've done this for two years, and the vegetables are delicious and long-lasting -- although Gorman doesn't do the exotic vegetables that bigger programs sometimes offer.  Gorman also sells fruits and vegetables from a farm stand just south of Columbia.
  • Breezy Willow Farm runs an almost-year-round series of CSAs -- early bird, main season, etc.  They go past vegetables into bread, eggs, jams and more.  They also sell meat and -- new for 2013 -- artisan ice cream.  They have drop-offs at libraries and schools from Elkridge to Fulton to Columbia and more.
  • Sandy Spring CSA runs pickups around the Washington area, including one in Columbia.  AnnieRie has bought from Sandy Spring, so I really suggest that you see her posts for what she has received and the fun that she has had.
  • South Mountain Veggies is a variation where they deliver vegetables from local farms.  You pick the size of your bag, and you can have some control over what you get.  This family brought you South Mountain Creamery, which delivers dairy products and sold its milk, cream and cheese at the Saturday farmers market in Cooksville.
  • The Zahradka Farm in Baltimore County appears to deliver to offices and homes.  Their CSA has run drop-off points like at an Ellicott City school in 2012.  I don't know the details, but AnnieRie has dealt with them too.
  • (Update:  Friends & Farms in Columbia appears to be a company that does meat, fish, vegetables and more.  Anonymous recommended them in the comments, and it seems like a cool option.  Anyone know more about them?)
Anyone else have experience with CSAs in or near Howard County?  Any other options?  Any other advice for someone considering a 2013 sign-up?

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Have you ever considered Friends and Farms? They are a local company that provides farm fresh food to their clients. Their HQ is right off of Guilford Road in Columbia.

We have been doing it for months now and it has been great. They have a network of local farmers and provide you with a food basket every week.

I highly recommend it: www.friendsandfarms.com

Philosoraptor said...

Hey HowChow!

Thanks for the shout out to Sandy Spring CSA. My name is Benjamin and I am one of the people running the CSA (and have been a long time reader of this blog). I just wanted to say thank you, and let your readers know we will be opening up for membership this week (perhaps today or tomorrow).

We are really proud to serve fresh organic veggies to Howard County and support our local farms.

If you have any questions, please email me at info@sandyspringcsa.com

eat Local, eat Healthy!

-Benjamin

tmunky said...

I also subscribe to friends and farms and really like it. They run all year around and provide things like IQF veggies and dried beans n the winter. We get a small basket plus extra breakfast items each week. It's cutting down on the random trips to the grocery store.

Anonymous said...

South Mountain Creamery is awesome. We've been using them for about 6 months. It might sound crazy but I had no idea about South Mountain Veggies and went with Washington Green Grocer (WGG) just a couple of weeks ago washingtongreengrocer.com.
South Mountain may want to do some cross marketing between their two entities! Anyway, we are also very happy with WGG so far.

Annie Rie said...

Hi HowChow, thanks for linking my posts.

Zahradka does home delivery in the winter. Otherwise, there are local pick up points. I believe hocorising does them in the summer.

I am doing Breezy Willow March til May. Took a winter break to clear out my freezer.

If you freeze the extras, two people can do OK with most of the CSAs around here. At Breezy Willow, they will match you up and some people alternated pick up weeks.

Sandy Spring gives you a very large amount of veggies, some quite exotic. You have to eat a veggie based diet and make many salads and dinners to use it all. Many vegetarians and vegans are happy with how much they get. We eat quite a large amount of veggies, so are OK with them.

Love Dove Farm in Woodbine has a small number of openings in their CSA. They come to the hospital and Miller Library markets.

I have been gathering info about the other CSAs in the area. More of them offered every year.

Ni said...

Another vote for Friends and Farms here. I can make most of my meals for the week using only the ingredients in their food baskets and some common staples like spices. I was very unhappy with the CSA that I used over the summer, so I was really relieved to find that this company is organized, has great customer service, and provides great food.

Regina said...

Hi Everyone!

Thanks for all the support for Friends & Farms. We are fairly new – just started distributing our baskets in June 2012. We have pickup locations in Columbia, Catonsville, Timonium, Severna Park and at Boordy Vineyards. You can read all about how our program works on our website, www.friendsandfarms.com, and you can see photos of our baskets on our Facebook page.

I should also mention that we do "trial baskets" so you can see if the food portions and diversity of items are a good fit for you, before making the 13 week commitment.

We invite you to stop by one of our pickup locations, give us a call or shoot us an email any time!

Cheers!
Regina

Katie said...

Another F&F fan here. We've been using them since August, and love the variety we get. In addition to the produce and proteins/dairy/eggs, they include occasional special items like Zeke's coffee or Michelle's granola. Can't recommend them highly enough, and everyone who works there is so friendly and helpful! They really try to make it feel like a little community.

genuine impulse said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
genuine impulse said...

We had a nightmare experience with Zahradka CSA this summer.

And a great experience with Breezy Willow.

genuine impulse said...

Here is more information about our experience with Zahradka CSA

We were completely aware of "shared risk". We assumed that in paying nearly a thousand dollars for the season = we get a better deal then the walk up person at a farmers market. Instead every week we lose money and get reminded of our mistake.

Produce is fine in nature. But for $937 for 24 weeks= $39 a week for 12 shares= we pay $3.25 a share. We pick up our CSA at a farmers market where the prices are listed. And so the result is unless we chose 12 shares of heirloom tomatoes each week...for our commitment, we get ripped off each and every week. A walk-up consumer, not committed to 24 weeks pays $5 for dozen ears of corn. We pay $6.50. A basket of green beans is $3. Onions of leeks or Kale $2.00....there is no adjustment for CSA members...and most items are $3.00...so even if we chose all $3.00 items we ONLY lose $4 that week...for having committed to the whole season.

Then, not written anywhere in the contract...we found out that we were permitted only one fruit per week. We had been members in the winter and this was not the case. But for the summer it is....and what angers me more is that the full share person with the most invested (and one would think, the most valuable) gets one share of fruit. The middle CSA of six items is allowed one fruit, the smallest share of 4 items is allowed one fruit. Which to me equals those of us who risked and committed the most money, get the most screwed.

I emailed complaining about all of this and was told I could go F-myself. Needless to say we won't make this mistake again. Id be happy to send my receipt and any documentation to validate this as authentic.
I also have photographs of the prices listed at the farmers market and of bags of bruised and rotting peaches that we got as our "special only for CSA member share"