The kind of glee that CSA bags can instill in even the most jaded of fast-foodies is rather remarkable to watch.
Just ask my children, who before last summer eyed anything green or leafy with serious suspicion.
They now clamor for kale, organic carrots and fresh apples. Miraculous.
For the uninitiated, CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) is a sort of subscription to an individual farm. .
You pay somewhere between $10 and $30 (sometimes more) per week directly to the farm, and in return are delivered a weekly box or canvas bag stuffed with a surprise selection of freshly harvested fruits and vegetables.
One week it may be greens, apples, peaches and onions; the next something completely different. Various CSAs also include fresh eggs, cheese, bread, meat and even flowers. Call it one-stop shopping with a conscience.
And though paying up-front for your subscription (which helps the farmers with crop planning and expenses) can be a bit paralyzing to some, working out the math over the long-haul makes the deal comparable -- and even cheaper in our case -- to weekly grocery bills.
Not to mention the thrill of discovery at what the farmer left for us this week. As we head into the summer harvest season, it's a perfect time to subscribe.
Canvas Ranch: At this bustling sheep ranch and farm in west Petaluma, Deborah Walton and her artist husband, Tim Schaible, have turned neglected pastures into a fertile landscape boasting everything from tomatoes and cauliflower to peppers, beets and zucchini.
Several times a year, CSA members are invited to tour the property, meet the teddy-bear sweet mini sheep and tour Schaible's on-site art studio.
What makes this CSA so special are add-ons including Della Fattoria bread, local cheeses, eggs and flowers. It can all add up, but you can try out the program for $112 (four weeks) to get started. 766-7171, www.canvasranch.com.
First Light Farm: There's plenty of buzz about Nathan Boone's biodynamic farm, now offering a year-round CSA.
Boone walks the walk of earth-friendly, sustainable farming, taking the philosophy one step further into promoting health and healing through food. "Food is medicine," says Boone on his Web site.
And among his fans: Cathryn Couch, executive director of Sebastopol's Ceres Community Project, which provides food for seriously ill patients. Subscription is $1,000 for 50 weeks, with an annual commitment required. firstlightfood.com, 480-5346.
Tierra Vegetables: Renowned for the more than 20 varieties of chiles grown on their farm, this brother-and-sister operation also produces enough vegetables for a growing legion of CSA fans.
The focus is on vegetables at Tierra, but that doesn't just mean kale and spinach.
Expect fun discoveries like dried chipotle powder, homemade catsup, cactus leaves and beans as well as the sporadic inclusion of berries, melons and other seasonal fruits.
Best of all: Entertaining explanations of the week's bounty and intriguing recipes on how to cook up your goodies. $600 per season, June to Christmas. www.tierravegetables.com, 837-8366.
Laguna Farm: One of Sonoma County's oldest and most popular CSAs, Laguna Farms describes itself as "beyond organic," and offers memberships for as few as three months.
Organic bread, seasonal fruit and extra salad mix are available for an additional charge. Sign up: $75 deposit plus $17 week; lagunafarm.com, 823-0823.