Posts Tagged ‘CSA’

Summer and Winter Harvests

July 29, 2012


Over the past couple of years, our subscription in a summer (and winter) Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share has evolved. At first, it was a very convenient way to purchase vegetables. It has since become a pretty impressive meal planning tool. A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about Community Supported Agriculture, in particular the fact that my wife and I had recently begun subscribing to one from Herrcastle Farm. Fast forward a couple of years, and we are still happy subscribers to Herrcastle’s CSA share. Their program runs from the first week of June until the beginning of November. We have also found a Winter CSA program that runs from the middle of November until the middle of May. So we have fresh, locally grown vegetables almost year round. Very cool. And with the many new CSAs popping up in the past couple of years, we are definitely not alone.

The CSA quickly introduced us to new vegetables—kale being the most prominent. We had never bought it before; we have since learned how to cook it (and I am told my kale is excellent—but my wife might be a little biased and kind). In other cases, the item is so good that we began planning meals around it. Exhibit 1 is Herrcastle Farm corn. Trust me, corn from Herrcastle Farm qualifies as a Major Event—it is that good. It is also symbolic of how the CSA has changed our lives and eating patterns. In corn season, we plan our Saturday dinners around the corn; we have learned the corn is better when it is cooked the same day we get it.


The corn is the most obvious example of how many our meals have become oriented to what is in that week’s share. Meal planning for a given week (to the extent we do it in advance) is driven not by a menu of what we think we’ll want, but by what we have in our share that week. In part this is a function of having to use up the vegetables (and some fruits). But in part it is driven by just how good the produce is. The produce consistently is excellent and highly nutritious. It is paradoxically easier to wait to see what we have in share and plan from there, than it is to try to build a whole week’s menu without knowing what kind of produce will be present.

One issue with all the produce is what to do with all the extra stuff—such the covers of the corn, kale stalks, the greens from some of the winter vegetables, etc. The first year, we threw away (to be put into a landfill) an enormous amount of this stuff. I decided that this was ridiculous, and got a compost pile container. For a couple of years, I dumped dry vegetables, and tea bags, and other compostables into a contained pile in the back of the yard, hoping I would get compost out of it. This was not quite successful.

The composter is on the far left with the screws ready.

This year, I decided to spend the money to get an actual composter with a cover. I bought it on spec, hoping that my father in law and his assistant (my toddler) could assemble it. They did. In the past 3 months, I have gotten out more compost from the composter than I got from my compost pile in the past 2 years. I had been afraid I would have too much compost to use. Au contraire. The issue is now, with my efficient composted (aided by hundreds of bugs inside of it) is that I have too little compost. The apple tree, blueberries, garden all need compost, yet my family and I can’t generate enough compostables to fill the demand—even with our CSA. This is a classic problem of undercapacity for new markets.

Speaking of new markets, CSAs are spreading out from their summer vegetable origins. Over the past couple of years, I have heard of more CSAs being offered in the winter (aside from mine). More recently, I’ve seen advertising from farms for CSAs for cheese. Since my wife and I love cheese, this was appealing. The problem is that there are 2 of us, and it would have been too much (locally produced) cheese to eat through. Just last month, my neighbor told me very excitedly last month about a meat CSA he had heard about. He has been calculating if his family eats enough meat to make the CSA worth it. This was the first I had heard of a CSA for meat.


It is wonderful to see so many varieties of CSAs available. And if the eating patterns of thousands (and maybe millions) change from their involvement in CSAs (like mine have), then a larger and larger portion of the agriculture industry will change as well to more environmentally friendly (if not organic) production methods. That is a good thing not only for the environment but for those producers servicing this growing market.

My previous post on CSAs:

Spring Planting

March 23, 2010

Spring Planting

This weekend was the first weekend of spring. Contrary to last month, I can actually see my garden. Buried under the snows of February was a garden, somewhere. However, in the dead of winter, a small omen of spring and summer arrived—the annual letter for my CSA share. This was a fabulous reminder that spring (and summer) would arrive, albeit eventually.

CSA is short for Community Supported Agriculture. The general idea is that the subscriber pays upfront for a season’s worth of vegetables from a nearby farm. “Nearby” often translates to within a couple of hours drive. In return, every week during the season, that same subscriber can pick up their vegetables. Pickups can be either at the farm, or more often at a local farmer’s market, apartment complex, etc. Often, the vegetables (and fruits and herbs) have been picked that morning or the day before. This guarantees maximum freshness. In some cases, (but not all), the subscriber also does a variety of a work on the farm(s) as well.

From the perspective of a whole season, the $500-$600 dollars I spend for my 22 weeks is money well spent, and it probably balances out. Many CSAs offer payment plans if you ask; but several hundred dollars up front can still be a large expense. Last year I actually calculated the implied weekly charge and decided it was close enough to what we would spend each week anyways. From the farmer’s point of view, having the CSA revenue in the spring pretty much mirrors when he needs it to pay for spring planting.

Last year was my (and my wife’s) first year subscribing to a CSA. We have actually been buying the bulk of our vegetables from a farm (Herrcastle Farm) at our community’s farmer’s market for several years. We started shopping at the farmer’s market initially because we wanted to support some local farmers. We wanted to help keep their businesses viable. If their agricultural businesses were sustainable, then they would not need to sell to developers who only had visions of more houses and concrete.

At the Glenside Farmer’s Market we found Herrcastle Farm and the Herrmann family. We consistently found their produce outstanding, and we got to know the Herrmann’s a little bit. We learned how they grew their crops. Their philosophy is in line with ours. We discovered that they often pick their crops on Friday for sale at the market on Saturday morning. Maybe this freshness is why their produce is so good. We also know exactly where the bulk of our produce comes from.

When we initially heard that Herrcastle has a CSA program, we wanted to subscribe. However, we were concerned that a CSA share would be too much for two people. But last year, we found out that the share was actually designed for two people. So we happily signed up in 2009, and we have been thrilled.

And we are not alone. In fact, the 2007 Census of Agriculture reported that 12,549 farms had CSA operations. Between that report and a survey I found by the University of Kentucky and Ohio State (below), I estimate that just shy of 700,000 people nationwide in 2009 enrolled in CSAs. These universities surveyed CSA operators in 9 states and found an average CSA enrollment of 55 per farm. The report notes that CSAs “began as an ideologically-driven effort to connect customers with their food [and have] matured into a widely utilized direct farm marketing method.” (pg 23) Perhaps this is why the CSA field is beginning to see some differentiation amongst CSA operators in terms of pricing policies, scale of operations, and key recruitment drivers.

More locally to Philadelphia, I’ve heard of at least 3-4 new CSA’s in my area beginning in the past couple of years. Just last week I noticed an ad in a Philadelphia area sustainability magazine (GRID Magazine) highlighting 8 CSAs that sell into the Philadelphia market—sometimes with multiple distribution points. If I did not belong to a CSA and needed more options, I could also go to for many more choices.

Statistics and Economics

Click to access csasurvey.pdf

A Rocky Mountain Perspective

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