It's CSA Time!
Yesterday was Groundhog Day, as well as Imbolc. The ancient Celtic holiday features the same observances- a spirit of nature makes a prediction about how much winter we have left, because- and here’s the GOOD NEWS- we’re halfway to Spring! We’re officially on the upslope now.
Of course, this means that we’re also in the time of Winter when we get our coldest and snowiest weather here in PA. I have to say, though, I’m almost getting used to it. Last night was incredibly windy and about 19 degrees, and that was no more uncomfortable than a pre-dawn Christmastime walk to the train station had been, when I realized that 30 degrees really didn’t feel all that bad anymore.
While I’m enjoying wallowing in the last throes of hibernation, it is time to announce that CSA season has arrived. It’s true, the window of opportunity to sign up for fresh food grown in local good earth, is open NOW. It seems crazy, but farmers are already seeding spring crops in their greenhouses.
Let me tell you about a few of my favorites.
In the Philly suburbs area, Pennypack Farms is a familiar and well-run option. You probably already know someone (if you live here, that is) that uses Pennypack. They have a variety of share sizes, 2 locations for pickup, and a fabulous herb garden at their Maple Glen farm besides. Their setup is simple- you choose from the pickup day and location options at the beginning of the season so farmers know how much to harvest on each day. Show up anytime they are open on your day, and check out the list of options posted. There may be limits on certain items (one head of broccoli per person, for example) and there may be required taking, should there be an over-abundance of a crop. Bring a bag, weigh out your choices, check off that you arrived on the register, and poof! Fresh vegetables from that very farm in your possession. They also offer extras like fruit, meat, dairy and egg shares, in addition to the vegetables.
I have belonged to their Highlands Farm site for both summer and winter shares, although they have discontinued the winter share there due to the trouble of keeping the long, narrow, gravel, hilly drive open. (The Highlands is a preserved estate on Skippack Pike west of Butler Pike.) I split the share with a Pennypack member, and we emailed each other what we had chosen, because we didn’t arrive together and weren’t supposed to choose more than that week’s limits. This setup was a little onerous, but the choices were generous and in summer they frequently had ‘seconds’ bins we could pick through for extras, which I liked because I could try one of something without needing to take a full share of it.
Next, I joined the Red Earth Farm CSA with a friend. They are based in Berks County PA, and have a great system for sharing. Each week you log into their website and choose your items. We’d email each other with our choices, reminding the other to pick her half. Red Earth Farm also offers many extra types of shares as well, and you can purchase additional items through their site. My friend and I got a few extra cases of tomatoes and canned them together!
When you sign up, you choose your location. The nearest site for us was a private home in Ambler, which received the farm’s deliveries on Wednesdays. One of us would drive over, transfer our bin contents to a bag, and make arrangements to drop off the other’s bag. We live 5 minutes from each other so that was no problem.
This was by far my favorite CSA I’ve tried (there have been a few other not worth mentioning too). Unfortunately, Ambler has become very inconvenient for both of us, which is a real shame. I’m very biased and strongly urge everyone in the area to try Red Earth Farm this summer, by which I mean sign up NOW! I think there’s only a few weeks left.
Now I’m trying out a service called Door to Door Organics. They also have an online ordering system, and options to purchase all sorts of other items, as well as an area to choose items you hate (like onions in my case!), or items you really love. You choose from several box sizes, whether you want fruit, veggies, or a mix of them, and weekly or bi-weekly delivery. You can also leave a message for delivery instructions to make sure everything is protected from weather, animals, neighbors, etc.
Each week you log in to see the contents of your next box, and they try to accommodate your love/hate list. You can substitute up to 5 of the items, purchase extras, or even skip a delivery very easily. I just received my 3rd box this morning. The quality of everything I’ve gotten has been great so far, though the quantity has been sometimes disappointing. Not everything is local either, although items that are get labeled as such on the order page. I was pleased to see that “1” banana unit is really 2 fruits, same with potatoes, acorn squash, and a few other items. But the kale bunch had about 5 stalks in it, and this time I got a blood orange that is scarcely bigger than a golf ball. I suppose I will soon learn what’s what when ordering, and when I did the math on each week it is a little cheaper than either Pennypack or Red Earth Farm so smaller items are to be expected.
I’m using the service to force myself into fresh food, fruit, and variety during the winter, and I expect I’ll switch to an all fruit, bi-weekly box in summer when I can shop at the local Lansdale farmer’s market more. It’s really a great market and I got there often last year, so that’s no burden. Also, if you sign up with them using this link, I'll get a discount on my next order for inviting you! (If it doesn't work, email me and I'll send you a new invite. Thanks!)
Really, though, I encourage you to try any of these ideas, or any of the ones near you. Try doing a search on LocalHarvest.org to see what’s nearby. You get really fresh stuff, support local farmers, and don’t have to go to the grocery store as often (or am I the only one who thinks that's a win-win-WIN?!) And if anyone wants to host a Red Earth Farm pick up site in the Lansdale/Montgomeryville/Collegeville area, DO IT! I’ll be the first to sign up.
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