Community Supported Agriculture

| September 14, 2005 | 5 Comments
  • 5 Comments

What are you investing in this week? Berkshire Hathaway? Google? Pfizer? How about investing in one of your local farms? Through a CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture, program you can do just that. When you join a CSA program, you purchase a share of the farm’s crop and are in exchange provided with part of the crop each week. By joining a CSA program, you invest in a farm and, along with other members, provide a steady stream of cash to a farm when it is needed most. Most CSA programs provide a discount if you pre-pay for your share on a quarterly or yearly basis because a pre-payment allows the farm to use the cash in the springtime when money is needed for farm equipment or investment in the farm.

A farm with a CSA program is a farm of a different color. Instead of following the nationwide trend of growing one or two crops per farm, the farm grows a multitude of different crops with the goal of providing variety to the CSA members. A polycultural farm, or farm that grows many crops, has many advantages:

• It has built-in pest and disease control. If a bug has to work too hard to find it’s favorite tomatoes for instance, it will leave the polycultural farm and go find a farm that has an entire field of only tomatoes,

• It insures itself. There are so many crops on a polycultural farm that if one crop fails, there is another type of crop to take its place, and

• It’s diversity means that it is constantly changing and trying new products.

Most CSA programs deliver goods weekly to a spot near your home – it could be a school, someone’s house, or a business. You agree to pick up your produce box each week during a pre-set window of time. You are usually asked to pay for the program at least monthly, or sometimes quarterly. CSA programs vary in price and in variety of fruits and vegetables that they provide. By participating in a CSA, you will receive a newsletter with each delivery, and often will be invited to farm events throughout the year.

With most CSA programs, you don’t have a say in what you get. Each week, you receive fresh and in-season fruits and vegetables. While purchasing products from a farm at a farmer’s market is a good way to get to know a farm, don’t make the mistake of thinking that what you see at a farm stand is the only product provided to a CSA member. Many farmers grow a product for the CSA program but for many reasons don’t bring it to market.

We in the Bay Area are fortunate to be able to choose from many local CSA programs:

Capay Organic Farm (Yolo County)

Capay Organic Farm features home and office deliveries throughout the Bay Area and Sacramento. Their CSA program, called “Farm Fresh to You,” allows you to choose a regular box, a small box, or a mostly fruit box. You can also choose a “snack pack” delivery which is suitable for offices, and can be set on any schedule. With Farm Fresh to You, you can have some say in what is in your box by letting the farm know if there is a fruit or vegetable that you will never use, and a substitution will be made. This substitution policy is unique to Farm Fresh to You.

Cost: $21.50 – $29/week. Delivery cost is included.

This week’s box includes: Mixed Cherry Tomatoes, Summer Squash, Heirloom Tomatoes, French Fingerling Potatoes, Bell Peppers, Bartlett Pears, Gala Apples, Yellow and Red Onions, and Melon.

Eatwell Farm (Yolo County)

Eatwell Farm is a year-round CSA program with 11 pickup sites in San Francisco and 12 pickup sites in the East Bay, Davis, and Marin County. With Eatwell’s CSA program, you can pick up a box every other week instead of weekly if you eat fewer veggies. Eatwell has recently started selling eggs which are from their farm and can be included in your box. Cost is $5.50/dozen or $3/half-dozen.

Cost: $21/box. Rates shown are based on a four-box subscription. Cost is reduced if you pay on a quarterly or yearly basis.

This week’s box includes: Watermelon or Ambrosia Melon, Green Beans, Grapes, Green Peppers, Mixed Plums, Cucumbers, Summer Squash, Cherry Tomatoes, Fresh Thyme, and Asian Pears.

Full Belly Farm (Yolo County)

Full Belly has 22 pickup sites in East Bay, Marin, South Bay, and Sacramento. They don’t have any pickup sites in San Francisco. Home delivery is available for select East Bay locations for an additional $5/week. Full Belly Farm is a polycultural farm in every sense of the word. In addition to fruits and vegetables, they provide products such as whole wheat flour, lamb, and yarn for an additional price.

Cost: $15/box. Price is reduced if you pay on a quarterly or yearly basis.

This week’s box includes: Corn, Eggplant, Grapes, Onions, Cantaloupe Melon, “Surprise” Melon, Summer Squash, and Tomatoes.

Two Small Farms/Mariquita Farm (Watsonville)

Mariquita Farm and High Ground Organics join to provide a CSA box from Two Small Farms. They have 5 pickup sites in San Francisco, and 51 pickup sites in the South Bay, Peninsula and Santa Cruz. Two Small Farm’s CSA runs from March through November. They provide mainly vegetables with a small amount of fruit. You can have flowers delivered with your veggie box for an additional $6/week.

Cost: $20/box

This week’s box includes: Strawberries, Tomatoes, Swiss Chard, Cauliflower, Carrots, Basil, Artichokes, and Eggplant.

Riverdog Farm (Yolo County)

Riverdog Farm has 20 pickup sites in East Bay, Davis, and Napa. They don’t have any pickup sites in San Francisco. Their boxes include fruits and vegetables. To preview this farm’s offerings, you can visit them at the Berkeley Farmer’s Market on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

Cost: $16/week

This week’s box includes: Mixed Tomatoes, Yellow Baby Watermelon, Charentais Melon, Orange Honeydew, Globe Eggplant, Armenian Cucumber, and Red Onions.

Terra Firma Farm (Yolo County)

Terra Firma Farm has 16 pickup sites in San Francisco and 15 pickup sites in the East Bay or Sacramento area. Their delivery features fruit and vegetables with the option to choose your box size — small, medium and large.

Cost: $13 – $29/week. Startup cost involves a $35 deposit, refundable upon timely notification of discontinuation. Rates shown are based on monthly subscribership. Cost is reduced if you pay on a quarterly or yearly basis.

This week’s (large) box includes: Tomatoes, Fingerling potatoes, Asian pears, Gypsy peppers, Orange honeydew, Garlic, Summer Squash, Apples, Valencias, Red watermelon, and Onions.

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About the Author ()

"My passion for food began young." I am the editor of the influential website www.EatLocalChallenge.com which encourages readers to support local farmers and producers. I began my personal website, Life Begins at 30, in 2003. I have been published in Edible San Francisco and Fine Cooking, write regularly for Bay Area Bites, Serious Eats, and have been quoted in many nationwide publications. Photography is a passion, and I have had photos printed in National Geographic Traveler and Travel + Leisure. I contributed to a Williams-Sonoma cookbook: Cooking from the Farmers' Market, which was released in February 2010. I live in San Francisco, California and can often be found at local farmers markets seeking out the best of what's in season and chatting with farmers.
  • Tana

    As this is a topic near and dear to my heart, please let me recommend going to LocalHarvest.org, which allows you to enter your zip code to find CSAs (and farms, and restaurants who support farms) and all other manner of sustainable food resources. Beyond presenting individual member listings (with links to their personal websites), you find yourself looking at a map with little triangles on it. The triangles represent farms.

    Maps are very evocative to me: zooming and moving around the area is a form of mini-travel that I enjoy. (I’m a map geek!)

    There are many readers of this web site who are far flung from San Francisco, and they will find it useful to find their own local CSAs and perhaps even visit these farms and meet the people who are doing such amazing work.

    Thanks, Jen, as ever, for bringing farms into the spotlight.

  • Luisa

    What a coincidence! I just wrote about my beloved CSA on my blog today. Anyway, I can’t say enough good things about CSAs in general, thanks for spreading the word!

  • cookiecrumb

    And there’s no reason to chicken out if you don’t think you will eat all the produce each week. Just team up with another family, split the cost, and share the bounty.
    My brother subscribes to Two Small Farms CSA, and they have the best newsletter (which you can receive even if you’re not a member).

  • Jennifer Maiser

    Tana – thanks for pointing out Local Harvest. I have to admit that I have never had much luck with it, but I can see that it may be useful to get someone started.

    Luisa – your CSA looks great. Love that they have a sliding scale.

    Cookiecrumb – thanks for mentioning that you could split your share. Likewise, with boxes that are too small, you could double your share. Mariquita used to have a “small” box and a “large” box but when they realized that most orders were for a small, they went to one size with the idea that people who wanted a large box could purchase a double share.

  • shuna fish lydon

    I love that this post is so to-the-point and informative. Someone gave me the use of their box last week and it was such an interesting turn in how I cooked that week.

    Thank you for providing clear cut information. It’s great to see it comparitively.