Eating Green

In honor of Earth Day, which takes place this Sunday, April 22, I offer an updated list of area farms that still have CSA shares available for the upcoming season.

But first, let's break down this acronym: CSA is short for Community Supported Agriculture. Translated, that means a relationship between you, the consumer/eater and a farmer who grows all the stuff. The commitment from you is cash money upfront, in the range of $300 or $400, a financial guarantee to the farmer. This money pays for your subscription and entitles you to a "share" of the land.

In return, the farmer delivers a weekly box of just-harvested produce, for up to 20 weeks in succession (depending on the farm). Every grower I talked to this morning delivers to a variety of drop-off points in the Washington area, and the key for the would-be subscriber is to find a CSA with drop-off points that are closest to home or work.

Other than the wonderful convenience of a weekly farm delivery, a CSA keeps local farms in business. "It's our lifeline," says Brett Grohsgal of Even' Star Organic Farm in St. Mary's County, Md. "The CSA subscribers make it possible for us to keep the farm running."

Okay, you might say. I'll do something for local economy. But, you argue, how is a CSA good for the environment?

Farmers that offer CSA programs do the work themselves. There is no middleman distributor, no off-site refrigerated storeroom and no bagging or washing facilities. The food stays put until ready for delivery, and most farmers make those deliveries themselves. And speaking of deliveries, the drop-off points are within 100 miles of the farms, which means less fuel for transport is being used.

CSA farms commit to farming methods without the use of chemicals and pesticides, and proudly share this information when you sign up.

And I would argue, committing to a CSA share makes you more aware of environmental impact and additional tangible ways you can implement eco-friendly practices in your home and in daily life.

A CSA is not for everyone, however. If you travel or dine out frequently, a CSA probably is not worth the money. Some folks prefer the control of selecting their own produce at a weekly farm market, and find that CSAs are limited in scope or offer too much of one item and not enough of another. Others prefer the social aspect of the farm markets and their wider range of products, including meat, dairy and bread. I like the honest self-assessment checklist offered on the Web site of Potomac Vegetable Farms. If you're in doubt, check this out.

As of this morning, the Washington area farms below still have CSA shares available for the upcoming summer/fall season. With this comes a caveat: It is more an exception than a rule that spaces exist in April. The rule of thumb is to subscribe in the dead of winter, when summer seems far away.

For those readers in other parts of the country, a few online resources come to mind: Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association and Local Harvest, which both have national databases of CSAs nationwide. For readers in New York, Farm to Table, an initiative of Earth Pledge, offers a robust listing of CSAs and recently announced the expansion of listings to include 25 cities, including Washington.

Bull Run Mountain Farm, The Plains, Va.
Leigh Hauter says to ignore the note on his Web site that today is the cut-off date, as he's got at least 20 shares up for grabs. The first delivery begins June 4, running for 20 weeks. A 2-person share is $450.
Drop-off locations: East Falls Church, Dupont Circle, Alexandria, Herndon, Manassas and Centreville.
Contact info: farm@bullrunfarm.com or lhh@hughes.net

Even' Star Organic Farm, Lexington Park, Md
Brett Grohsgal says there are "plenty" of shares available for his 14-week summer program, which kicks off the first week of June. Cut-off subscription date: May 15.
Price: $416 with free-range eggs, $360 for egg-free shares.
Drop off locations: Chevy Chase, Bethesda, University Park, Md,
South Arlington and a location near the farm in St Mary's County, Md.
Contact info: evenstarfarm@evenstarfarm.org; 301/866-1412

Fresh and Local CSA, Shepherdstown, W. Va.
About 10 shares are available, for a 20-week program that begins first week of June.
Price: $450.
Drop-off locations: Bethesda, Silver Spring, Tenleytown, south Arlington and Sheperdstown.
Contact info: 304-876-3382; info@freshandlocalcsa.com

Potomac Vegetable Farm, Purcellville and Vienna, Va.
According to the Web site, there are shares left on the Purcellville location, which will serve drop-off locations in Herndon, Ashburn, Leesburg and Reston.
I placed a call and e-mail with the farm to verify availability but have not yet received a reply. I'll make an update as this info becomes available.
Contact info: 703-759-2119; ellen@potomacvegetablefarms.com

Sandy Spring CSA, a co-op of Maryland farms.
Although the summer program is sold out, Sandy Spring's Vanessa Strunk tells me that she's accepting applications for the 7-week fall program that begins in mid-October (lasting until Thanksgiving, which is a lovely idea).
Price: $162
Drop-off locations; Rockville and Sandy Spring, Md.
Contact info: 301-424-9142; vstrunk-bodyandsoul@verizon.net


By Kim ODonnel |  April 20, 2007; 11:46 AM ET Sustainability
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Comments

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My husband and I investigated CSAs last year, and in our area (Indiana), still have some time to make a choice for this year.

The drawback of the CSA for us is actually how little variety we will get and how much produce will be duplicated by our own amateur gardening efforts (tomatoes, zucchini, beans, herbs). I love the idea of a grab-bag of produce from a professional grower-of-food full of stuff that you might never have tried, or that is more challenging to grow than you yourself can manage...alas, that is not quite our reality :(

Posted by: librarylady | April 20, 2007 1:25 PM

Kim -- Where is the Sandy Spring CSA based?

Posted by: Troylet | April 20, 2007 1:58 PM

A couple years back, my husband and I
got a half-share from Great Country Farms
(http://www.greatcountryfarms.com/).
They delivered TO OUR DOOR in Annandale
and we were very pleased with the produce
service, etc.

HOWEVER, we found that the variety was
a little lacking some weeks (a function
of CSAs in general) and we didn't always
like what was being delivered (for
example, we got sick of eggplant before
eggplant ran out of season). We decided
that **we** weren't good candidates for
CSA due to our schedules, but we still
love the IDEA of a CSA :)

I can totally recommend these folks. I
can't tell from their website if 2007 is
still available or not.

Posted by: Michelle | April 20, 2007 6:57 PM

I've been thinking of trying this, but I'm concerned that it might be too much food. There's only two of us in the house, and my husband tends not to eat veggies. I think I'll just stick with dropping by the farm stand near my house periodically.

Posted by: DC Cubefarm | April 23, 2007 11:10 AM

Check out http://www.starhollowfarm.com/.

You choose what fruits/veggies etc. you want from an updated list each week by Friday morning. There are several drop off points in the city, on Saturday morning.

Quality is very good, much of it is organic and local. Excellent variety, great service, wonderful people with a farm in Pennsylvania.

Posted by: poster | April 23, 2007 2:11 PM

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