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Let It Snow. Let It Grow. Get It Now.

February 9, 2016

The snow on the porch last night was beautiful. It sparkled. Once upon a time it used to snow like this throughout the winter.

I’ve got no idea what’s coming up next, weather wise. Food events I’ve got covered. But I don’t know if our infamous Albany winter is just going to kick us in the ass for the next couple of months, or if it’s just going to throw in the towel and try again next year.

While I’ve been enjoying the warmer weather, and the lack of shoveling, it also makes me deeply uneasy. I can only imagine how the farmers feel. Times like these make me glad to be part of a CSA. That’s Community Supported Agriculture, to those for whom it’s a new term.

It’s a great hedge against uncertainty, and coincidentally, the time to start signing up for one is now. So let me get some of those nagging concerns about the weather off my chest, and then maybe I can answer some about CSAs in general.

Okay, so here comes the crazy.

What happens to those food producing plants when exposed to a winter like this? What will happen to those trees who were confused and grew early buds during a warm patch only to experience a later winter? What condition will the soil be in if it hasn’t been covered with snow for months? And what about the water? Without the melting snow on the mountains that surround this valley, will this ridiculous winter create even more problems with our water supply?

I have no idea. And my guess is that our regional farmers have some thoughts about how to hedge their bets, but they can’t be crazy about all this uncertainty either.

But with a CSA everybody wins.

Effectively, what you do is buy a share of a farm for the growing season. To make the math easy, let’s say a small farm can support 100 families. Now to operate that farm, including labor, materials, and equipment costs, it takes $100,000 for the season. So the farmer decides to sell 100 shares for $1000 each. Then, every week during the harvest season, each family gets 1% of the yield from the fields.

In a great year, they may end up with much more food than they can eat that week. Then, they’ll be busy trying to prepare some of their weekly allotment for storage. Produce can be canned, pickled, dried, or frozen for use in the lean winter months.

In a challenging year, some crops might fail. You may not get the corn that you wanted thanks to a flock of especially hungry birds, or the farm’s prized tomatoes may have been lost in a flood, or downy mildew may have infected the basil field and made it all unusable. It’s a bummer.

However, crop failures that could have been devastating for a small family farm in the past are much more manageable under a CSA model. Should things get bad all around, and fresh fruits and vegetables become hard to find, subscribers know that they will get their weekly share from their farm.

We’ve been through a couple of challenging seasons with Roxbury Farm, but the last few have been magnificent. And once again, we’ve signed up with a partner. This job thing has cut into my spare time for all the cooking projects and all the eating that needs to get done during CSA season. Seriously, when the salad greens start rolling in, if we’re not each eating a salad a day, we’ll never make it through our share. That’s why I’ve come to enjoy splitting a share with someone and alternating weeks, so that the bounty never becomes burdensome.

Not all CSAs are the same. So it makes sense to choose one that’s right for you. Years ago Deanna Fox did a roundup of regional CSAs. The Local Harvest page is a little outdated too. And Yelp has some good leads, but it’s not totally comprehensive either.

Perhaps some local blogger with more time on their hands will put something together. I’d gladly link to it, or repost the list on these pages. But for now, given the constraints of time, this will have to do.

Sign up for one of these programs. The quality of the food is amazing. Don’t take my word for it. Here’s what Greg K. had to say about his experience with Roxbury:

I had my first CSA pick up of the season this week – I cannot believe I haven’t got my shit together in the past and purchased one. The quality is exceptional, all the stress in figuring out what to buy is taken away and its fun to spend the evening prepping, preserving, and planning what to do with everything.

It’s also a great way to vote with your wallet that responsibly produced local agriculture from local farms is important. Maybe this year won’t be the best ever for CSAs. But it may be the most important one to support our local farms.

I’ve got mine. I hope you get yours.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. February 9, 2016 11:04 am

    oooo, Roxbury has Westchester AND NYC pickup locations. I’m so tempted! In the past I did a share from Fox Creek Farms and didn’t love it. It felt like all I got was lettuce and potatoes, I was so over lettuce by the time it was done. Is the variety with Roxbury pretty good?

    • February 9, 2016 11:07 am

      There’s a lot of greens, to be sure. But the variety is solid. Always an herb. Their tomatoes are fantastic, as is their corn. They also grow these Italian sweet peppers that I (and little miss fussy) just love.

      The parenthetical is probably the highest endorsement of them all.

  2. February 9, 2016 11:36 pm

    I’d like to hear from anyone who planted fall garlic. I betcha a lot of that doesn’t come back this spring.

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