Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs are one of the easiest ways to get a steady, affordable supply of locally grown foods during the growing season. It also gives a farmer some cash at a time of the year when they are spending money for seeds, and guarantees sale of a percentage of their crops in advance.
Here’s how it works. Usually in about April, farms start selling CSA “shares” or “subscriptions” (two names for the same thing). You pay them an agreed amount up front, or sometimes in installments, and they agree to provide you with a box or bag full of farm products every week or two for a certain number of weeks. Usually the programs are about five months long. Each farm has specified pickup points–sometimes the Farmers Market, sometimes someone’s home, or sometimes at the farm itself.
Prices and the products delivered vary quite a bit from farm to farm. Some CSAs include only vegetables, while others include some fruit, too. There are egg CSAs, dairy CSAs, etc.–even flower CSAs. Some farms deliver standard popular varieties (broccoli, onions, potatoes, etc.), while others try to provide a good mix of old standbys as well as interesting varieties you may not have seen before. Some farms are certified organic, while others are not (though they may use organic practices-it’s always good to ask). It’s worth shopping around before you sign up so you can find a CSA that’s a good match for what you or your family will enjoy eating and how much you want to pay.
Because CSA farmers can predict exactly what portion of their crop is pre-sold, they often reward CSA customers by offering the shares at discounted prices, compared to what they will charge customers who buy products later in the season.
Finding out which farms are offering CSAs can be the tricky part. Fortunately it’s getting easier every year.
Probably the best source of CSA information this year is a special CSA list published by the Community Food Co-op, and available at the service counters in either of their stores in Bellingham. Each year they update the information–very important since CSA offerings can change quite a lot from one year to another. The two Co-op stores are located at Westerly and Cordata (315 Westerly Rd.) in the north end and Holly and N. Forest (1220 N. Forest St.) downtown.
Another good source of CSA information is the 2011-2012 Whatcom Food & Farm Finder booklet, published by Sustainable Connections. These have a lot of other useful information, too, such as a seasonality calendar which shows when various products are usually in season, handy map, information about various farms, farm stores, farm events, and sustainable farming practices used. Also included are details about other local food businesses such as restaurants, wineries, and more. The booklet is also available at the Co-op stores, the Bellingham Farmers Market, or Village Books. You can also download it in printable form.
Growing Whatcom CSA is a collaborative effort among several farms that has many product options. This year they have added a Skagit County CSA, too, so are not strictly Whatcom anymore, but the Skagit farmers are well within the 100-mile radius that some locavores use as their definition of “local.”
Finally, you might also check CSA listings on LocalHarvest.org. You can search for CSAs in their database located close to your zip code. Not all results will be located in Whatcom County, and be sure to check any notes at the top of a particular farm’s listing to see if the information might be outdated.
Sign up now to enjoy the best of our local food bounty well into fall!