Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Community Supported Agriculture in Howard County

If you're looking for organic or just seasonal vegetables near Columbia or Ellicott City, consider some of the local options for "community supported agriculture" -- basically a way to buy a piece of a local farm.

CSAs are a trendy little program where farms or groups sell "shares" that entitle you to a piece of the harvest. You get the produce when it comes ripe. Most CSAs are organic (or at least don't use pesticides even if they aren't certified yet). All are aimed to support local farms. So it's not the cheapest way to buy vegetables -- but it's a way that gives you product that never saw a refrigerated warehouse and is probably a few days (or hours) out of the field.
  • Gorman Farm in Laurel runs a CSA. For $550, you get a "full share" -- about eight pieces of produce a week for a season running from June to October. You pick up your box on Thursdays (11 am to 7 pm) at their stand on Gorman Road. They also offer a "half share" and run that produce stand if you want local vegetables, but don't want to commit to $550.
  • One Straw Farm runs a large CSA and one of its drop-offs is the My Organic Market in Jessup. You pay about the same or find a friend to split the share. Their season runs from June to November. (Thanks to Lisa for the comment about One Straw Farm.)
  • Breezy Willow Farm appears to run a CSA with pick ups at the farm in West Friendship at Rte 32 and I-70 on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons. I can't find much on their Web site, but you should click on the "Farm Fresh Goodies" sign on the left side, then scroll down. The farm seems to crate goat and sheet milk soaps along with selling vegetables.
  • South Mountain Veggies created a new option for 2009, but they're very, very limited. 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. They're buying produce from local farms and then delivering to customers. But they picked their customers in March 2009, and it didn't sound likely that they would expand. Keep them in mind for next year.
All these options are aimed at people who want to cook vegetables. This isn't the potatoes, tomatoes and green beans that you buy 52-weeks-a-year in a supermarket. This will be whatever is ripe now, and there are tons of blogs where people talk about their CSAs, share recipes for unfamiliar produce, and chat about whether it was worth the investment -- like this and this and Nina's local Yet Another Food Blog. As far as I read, you need to like vegetables and surprise. You need to like the idea that each box comes with something new or something that you won't know how to cook, and you need to like not knowing what you have until you reach your kitchen. If that sounds fun, try a CSA. If you try one, buy a used copy of How To Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman or Vegetables Every Day by Jack Bishop. Those are my bibles when I have a vegetable and need a recipe to cook right away.
(Update: Nina of Yet Another Food Blog picked One Straw Hill for her 2009 CSA.)

If you commute south, you might want to look at the Sandy Spring CSA, which has a pickup place in Sandy Spring on Wednesday.

Please post below if you have any experience with local CSAs or know of some that I missed. This post is a revision of an earlier post that was just about Gorman Farm and South Mountain. I retitled this version so that people might stumble on it when they're searching the internet for CSAs. If you're new to HowChow, check out my post about Vegetable Shopping in Howard County or my posts about the local farmers markets.

South Mountain Veggies
301-371-8565 (creamery)

NEAR: It's a delivery service. You don't need to go there. But South Mountain Farm is at 8305 Bolivar Road; Middletown, MD 21769.

Gorman Produce Farm
Gorman Road between between Leishear Rd & Murray Hill Rd.
Laurel, MD

NEAR: This is on Gorman Road. That's pretty convenient from Rte 29 if you take the Gorman/Johns Hopkins Road exit. You go east, and the road becomes Gorman. You can also reach


Anonymous said...

I participated in the Breezy Willow CSA last summer and really enjoyed it. The price was very affordable (paid $32 a week from June - Nov) and the produce was delicious. CSAs really give you the opportunity to test your creativity and cooking skills as I had never bought, eaten, or cooked kale before and receive 3 pounds one week. On top of the yummy corn, tomatoes, strawberries, peaches, apples, etc. from the CSA I really like the extras Breezy Willow Farm had. In addition to the fresh produce every week you received fresh baked bread (you could choose from a loaf or a sweet bread) and either a dozen eggs or honey/jam/soap. I loved it. Although I am not doing the CSA again, I would highly recommend them. The reasons I have for not doing it have nothing to do with the quality - as I work in DC, getting to the farm before 7pm was practically impossible and there was just too much produce for my family to consume. A great investment though!

MissMartha said...

FYI the Gorman Produce Farm's CSA is full for 2009 however you can put yourself on the waiting list for 2010.

kat said...

I second the recommendation for Breezy Willow CSA; since they're a conglomeration of farms instead of just one farm, there's a nice variety. I put up a picture of a typical summer pickup here. Word is that they're contemplating additional pickup sites for the 2010 season, but no specifics yet.

jessiex said...

A dear friend of mine, hailing from Columbia in the early days (we went to school together) has a CSA offering for hoco, starting this year. My home in Oakland Mills is the pickup place. More info here: http://bucklandfarmcsa.com/On_The_Menu.html