Monday, April 19, 2010

Community Supported Agriculture in Howard County -- The 2010 Version Now That I'm Signed Up

Okay, people.  I signed up for my "community support agriculture" last week so now I can write without worry that you'll push me aside.

I posted about CSAs in 2009, then couldn't get a slot with South Mountain Veggies because there was so much demand.  (Not from HowChow.  Other demand.)  This month, I saw a comment by Jessie X -- the mentor of Howard County blogging and mastermind of Hoco Blogs-- about her friend who grew up in Columbia, ran a co-op, managed a catering business and was now going to run a CSA with drop-off at Jessie's home.

Jessie X emailed me that her friend was "making a go of it with her sweetheart to create a lifestyle and business on the value of locally-sourced food."  Remember that Jessie is in marketing.  She hooked me.  I signed the check.  And, then, I read the Buckland Farm blog and learned that Jessie had meant to say that Dan and Carrie have never done this before.  They just got the farm in January.  They still haven't put seeds in the ground.  Jessie sells a good story, but let's summarize the lesson: Blogs are your source for truth.

All joking aside, I'm sold on Buckland Farm's CSA.  CSAs are about giving up control.  Farmers pick what to plant.  Weather dictate what thrives.  RDAdoc and I will just grab our bags from Jessie's porch and go home to find new recipes.  I love being part of Buckland's first year, particularly because they're focusing on unusual varieties.  (Plus, they have cool chickens, see on Jessie's blog.)  If you want to join, you can check out the Buckland Farm CSA Web page.

If you want other options, you can check out other CSAs near Columbia or Ellicott City.   With some variations, the basic idea is that 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.  Last week, they were full and taking names for a waiting list.   You pick up your box on Thursdays or Fridays.  They also sell from a roadside stand, although they haven't decided on 2010 hours yet.
  • One Straw Farm runs a large CSA and one of its drop-offs is the My Organic Market in Jessup. Their season runs from June to November.
  • Breezy Willow Farm appears to run a CSA with pick ups at the farm in West Friendship.  They also have pickups at the Miller and Elkridge libraries, Fulton Elementary, and Sinai Hospital.
  • South Mountain Veggies created a new option for 2009 because they deliver boxes of vegetables to your home. 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. Last year, they had limited slots.  I can't tell from the Web site, but it seems like they have expanded.
  • Shaw Farm in Columbia also sold out its 2010 CSA.  You can be added to their mailing list.
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. If you try one, buy a 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.

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.  I'm thinking about a series seeking updates about people's 2010 CSA experiences.  If you're new to HowChow, check out my post about Vegetable Shopping in Howard County or my posts about the local farmers markets.


Kattrina said...

I did Breezy Willow Farm a couple years ago (I think 2008). I really loved it - we got a variety of veggies, plus bread, eggs, jelly, and other special items on rotation. We ended up not doing it again because the drive was too far (I work in DC and it was practically impossible to get to West Friendship before 7pm to get our share). Plus, it was just too many veggies for our small family so we opted for the farmers market instead. It was a great experience though.

We also get milk, meat, and dairy from South Mountain Creamery and LOVE it. I think that South Mountain Veggies is now independent of the Creamery though - I think the Veggies has the same owners but they sold the Creamery because they wanted to focus on the Veggies business. I would assume that their CSA is great because their Creamery is fantastic.

Ellen said...

I am trying out Breezy Willow Farm this year. I had a mediocre experience with a multi-farm CSA through my work a few years ago-- it seemed like they gave us the dregs every week instead of first-quality produce. But I like the idea of CSA so much that I am willing to try it again. Breezy Willow is rather pricey, but I am looking forward to the extras (bread, jam, etc).

Sarah said...

We've done One Straw Farm for the last two years and signed up again for the 2010 season. We love love love it. For folks worried about having a veggie they're not sure how to use, we use a lot when we have a bunch of vegetables we're not sure how to use.

Anonymous said...

I signed up for a CSA for the first time this year. I can't wait to see how this works out.

Laura said...

I signed up for my first CSA experience this year (Gorman Farm) and can't wait for it to start up! In the past I have purchased items from their roadside stand and all of it was delicious, excellent quality. THE nicest people too!
I did look at Breezy Willow as I like how they offer such different items (honey, bread, jams...) but decided I wanted to go with just veggies/fruits for my first experience as I am very fortunate to have 2 young children who devour their fruits and vegetables! I can't wait to get something in my basket that's new to me so that I can try out a new recipe or two! I also chose this place because you pick it up at their actual farm and I want my kids to experience that.
The other place we looked at was Clagett Farm in Upper Marlboro - they have a really interesting, hands-on program and participate in the"From The Ground Up" project. Distance became the only issue with that one for now.
Some friends of mine are very pleased with One Straw Farm (with pick up at MOM's in Elkridge/Jessup) and I've heard great things about South Mountain Creamery too!
Looking forward to hearing about everyone's experiences!

Anonymous said...

In my opinion, produce from Maryland is usually more flavorsome that from Pennsylvania. Maybe the higher heat and humidity makes a difference? I don't know for sure. At farmers' markets, I won't even buy PA produce anymore (although I love their dairy), and even from Maryland farmers I'll buy from the southernmost farm I can find. I feel like tomatoes are affected the most.

Just my empirical opinion. ;-)

Pizzablogger said...

We had a poor experience with One Straw Farm last year in Baltimore last year and I heartily do NOT recommend them.

The amount of food you get for the price paid was not that good of a deal considering another CSA with similar high quality produce is offering double the produce for nearly the same price (and a wider selection of produce) and the help (at least in Baltimore)at the stand was anything but and were often aloof.

They never had tomatoes once last summer and we kept getting round a bout answers to when they were coming that were bewildering instead of just giving us the straight dope...all the while the stands around them were packed with them.

The variety of produce at One Straw's Baltimore CSA also left a lot to be desired.

I know One Straw provides produce to some very high profile restaurants in Baltimore, but I almost felt like they were focused so much on them that the little people like me didn't matter so much.

In the end, we felt like it was a pretty bum deal and will not be re-upping with them this year at all. I hope the service and value they provide in HoCo is much better than in Baltimore.

Sarah said...

That stinks, Pizzablogger! We were really pleased with what we got. I wonder if it's different at a market vs. at a "pickup" area. Go figure.

jessiex said...

HowChow, Yay, I'm so glad you're in. And, yes, I am most certainly one who works in the realm of marketing and communications. Guess it worked, huh?

Well, I can't market or work with any company/person/product I don't have some alignment with, and with Carrie and Dan as people, CSAs as a concept and local-vore and organic farming methods as a direction, I'm very aligned.

The pickup is in Oakland Mills. Thunder Hill to be more specific. And you have 24 hours to come by and get your share from under a shaded porch. $225 for a season's half share, $375 for a full (for up to four people). Wrote my check this weekend and am hand-delivering it tomorrow.

PS - Thanks for the shout-out on my chicken cam videos.

Unknown said...

Hey HowChow--Dan from Buckland here----thanks for the support. We're staying busy up here and will be keeping all our members informed about what's coming. Most CSA's provide recipes and recommendations for handling the produce they are supplying, we will be doing so also. Because we weren't on the property in the Fall of 2009 to get winter crops in we will have a relatively late start this year, but our plans for succession planting should keep produce in the deliveries in good quantity once it's in, and through the Fall. We have a local gardening guru who is supplying technical advice to supplement what we've developed...some knowledge only results from time and experience. After tomorrow evening's open house is through I'll be writing a post on the farm blog with a bit more detail on some of the methods we're employing to get a running start on the operation. Best Regards, Dan

Diana said...

I saw the twitter post come across about Buckland Farm, and after talking about it with a friend of mine, we are going to split a half-share.

We've been talking about doing a CSA for a long time and are looking forward to being part of this first year!

I can't wait to see what we get this summer!

Unknown said...

I got a 2010 CSA share with Orchard Country Produce, who come to the Howard County Farmer's Market on Thurs. I hope it works out!

jessiex said...

HoCo's EDA website lists but one CSA. hocobloggers rock.

Elisabeth @ said...

I know I'm coming into this well after the original posting date...but this is my first year with Breezy Willow Farm, and I am completely enamored. We will DEFINITELY be staying on for as long as we are local to Howard County. The quality of their produce, plus the advantage of bread, eggs, cheese, jam, etc., is well worth the price. They are also very flexible and offer several different payment options, which is awesome for those of us on a budget who also want quality organic local produce.

I couldn't be happier.

Farmer Brian said...

Hi there! This is Brian Hughes the farm manager at Shaw Farm. We are only a CSA and we grow everything on the farm. We've been certified organic since 1997. We pick almost everything on the day that people pick it up (at the farm). The farm is located near the intersection of 29 and 32. One important point is: everything we grow to our members (no dregs only the finest freshest produce available).

Dan Johnson said...

Thanks for mentioning Sandy Spring CSA. We have 2 new sites in Howard County this year: on Sunny Spring in Columbia and at the Howard County Conservancy in Woodstock. Both pickups are on Mondays.

We'll be at the Howard County GreenFest 10-4 on Saturday (April 2, 2011). Stop by and say hello.

It's true we used to have a pick-up site in Sandy Spring, but we had to move it to the nearby Ashton Methodist Church on New Hampshire.