In Sonoma County, the community supported agriculture (CSA) programs are thriving, but in order to keep subscribers coming back, farmers are providing more choices, including box sizes and delivery options.
That’s good news for consumers, who may be afraid of getting too much or wasting veggies they don’t like. Some farms will let you pick up a box every other week, while others let you trade out veggies at the farm.
There are also a growing number of meat and poultry CSAs, with options for folks who don’t have an extra freezer for that half cow share. A fruit farm membership also allows you to “pick your own” throughout the harvest season.
If you’re thinking about joining a CSA, it pays to do a little research to make sure you find one that fits your eating habits, lifestyle, budget and food philosophy.
The whole idea behind a CSA is to create a community of supporters who pay for shares of fresh food in advance. This model allows the farmers to nurture a closer connection to customers and ensure a steady market for their crops. For consumers, it provides peace of mind about food choices and perks such as potlucks and u-pick flowers.
Most of all, the CSA gives subscribers a strong connection to a family farm and the knowledge that they are keeping agriculture alive.
“Agriculture is not going to survive in Sonoma County if we don’t have the support of our residents,” said Jennifer Branham, co-owner of Laguna Farm in Sebastopol. “That’s the bottom line.”
If you want to subscribe to a CSA, first make sure it is local. Some source from farms in the Central Valley or as far away as Mexico. That’s one of the reason Deborah Walton of Petaluma’s Canvas Ranch discontinued her CSA program.
“I tell people to always ask not who grew it, but where did it come out of the ground,” she said.
Most of the local family farms grow more or less the same seasonal produce and provide a weekly newsletter with recipes and tips. Choose a farm that’s close to your flight path. hen ask for a list of what has been provided in the past month. Consider what “add-ons” are available and whether the CSA operates year-round.
Most farms offer delivery to drop-off points, but some charge extra. If you do not have time to pick up a box, choose a farm that does home delivery.
Here is a list of a dozen CSA programs in the county, and what they offer:
Vegetable CSA boxes
First Light Farm, Petaluma: Located on Bodega Avenue a few miles from downtown, this farm is best known for its dry-farmed potatoes grown by Jesse Pizzitola. There are two sizes of produce boxes, ($25 and $15), offering user-friendly veggies that are familiar, plus a few unusual items like fennel. The CSA goes year-round, with a network of drop-off spots in Petaluma, Santa Rosa, Sebastopol, Bodega Bay and Marin County. Limited home delivery is available for $7. Those who pick up at the farm get free, u-pick flowers plus a CSA potluck every other Wednesday. firstlightcsa.com.
Foggy River Farm, Healdsburg: Emmett and Lynda Hopkins run this CSA from their Eastside Road farm about 10 minutes from downtown Healdsburg. The box includes staples like carrots, tomatoes and lettuce plus fun items like elephant garlic and microgreens. CSA members choose their own produce andhave access to u-pick cherry tomatoes and hot peppers along with produce left over from farmers markets. Perks include picnicking every Wednesday and farm parties. Cost is $25 per week, May through November. For another $2, pick up in downtown Healdsburg, Windsor or Santa Rosa. foggyriverfarm.org.
4 tips for making the most of your CSA box
You’ve signed up for a CSA, and now it’s time to bring it home. Here are some tips on getting the most out of it.
Get a head start: As soon as you can, process the fresh vegetables so they are ready to eat or cook. Take the tops off beets and store them separately. Remove the tops from carrots, and chop the carrots into sticks. Wash your salad greens and put them in a Tupperware container lined with towels. Rib and chop kale, make a salsa out of your tomatoes, turn the basil into pesto. Freeze your berries.
Juicing for health: If you want to eat your veggies raw, consider buying a $25 juicer so you can energize with a fresh beet and carrot juice.
Clean house: The night before you pick up a new box, go through your crisper drawers and make a soup out of the vegetables remaining from last week. That way you avoid “food guilt” for wasting food, the No. 1 reason people leave a CSA,
Make a vacation plan: If you’re on vacation and your farm does not put your box on hold, share it with a neighbor or donate it to a needy family.