By Steve Fennessy
How to reap the bounty of community supported agriculture
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is the gawky term for a feel-good undertaking: Members purchase a subscription “share” in a farm, and then at weekly pickup locations they receive boxes—or bags, or baskets—of just-harvested produce and sometimes other staples, including eggs, cheese, or meat. It gives consumers a chance to meet farmers, helps kids understand where food comes from and what grows in which seasons, and often acquaints buyers with lesser-known but lovable vegetables like kohlrabi (a versatile root vegetable).
Our temperate climate obviously supports long growing spells and diverse bounty: The earthly delights in your CSA may include asparagus, radishes, onions, and strawberries in the spring; tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, okra, blueberries, and figs through the summer; and greens, sweet potatoes, winter squash, turnips, beets, and apples come autumn.
As with farmers markets, the blossoming interest in local, sustainable foods has inspired an increasing number of CSAs. According to Atlanta-based nonprofit Georgia Organics, CSAs in the state jumped from fifty in 2009 to 174 in 2012, with nearly half of those in the greater metro area and North Georgia. You can find a complete list at localfoodguide.georgiaorganics.org (search by category, then select “farms” and “CSAs”). In most cases the farmers select your product mix, but a couple of programs allow choice.
Over the last year, we subscribed to five different CSAs to compare prices, pickup locations, and styles. Tussles in the office over who was snagging the fragrant cantaloupe and who took home the gorgeous bunch of rainbow chard became a highlight of the week.
TRULY LIVING WELL
How it works: This nonprofit operates urban gardens and teaches city dwellers about the importance of agriculture. A full CSA share costs $400—or $250 for a half order—for thirteen weeks. (TLW also offers a $195 half share for subscribers sixty-two and over.)
What we liked: A subscription is good for thirteen visits at either TLW’s Wheat Street location (open Friday afternoons) or its East Point location (open Wednesday afternoons). You select produce from a displayed array, a rarity in the CSA universe. Have to skip a week? No problem; just use up your thirteen visits within six months. Favorite items included stubby but crisp Poona Kheera cucumbers, pattypan squash, red onions, leeks, and collards.
What we didn’t: Get there as close to opening time as you can, or risk having the selection picked over. trulylivingwell.com
How it works: Riverview Farms is a 200-acre organic farm in northwest Georgia. Each Wednesday it distributes boxes full of produce at drop-offs in Norcross, Decatur, Tucker, Acworth, and throughout Atlanta. The price is $270 for ten-week subscriptions, which are offered at three different periods from May to December. A meat CSA, available year-round, runs six months and costs either $410 or $770, depending on the size. Riverview claims that it gives enough vegetables for a family of four for a week. That claim might be slightly generous.
What we liked: Our produce subscription was in the heat of summer, and each week featured about six to eight different items. Among them: blueberries, turnips, squash, garlic, kale, corn, onions, cilantro, parsley, melons, tomatoes, pole beans, lettuces, and red potatoes.
What we didn’t: The boxes are prepacked, so you take what you’re given. grassfedcow.com
How it works: This CSA is part of a planned village devoted to environmental sustainability. Dine at one of Serenbe’s three restaurants or visit the fields during free monthly tours, starting in June. Full CSA shares pick up every Tuesday, and half shares (each portion contains the same quantity as a full share) pick up every other Tuesday, at either Serenbe Farms near Palmetto or at the offices of Strongbox West off Howell Mill Road. Flexible options include April to November ($800 for full/$450 for half), April to September ($600/$350), and September to November ($300/$175). The Westside location is not staffed; choose a plastic container and empty the produce into your own bag.
What we liked: Produce was always pristine and fresh. The preselected variety forces you to try novelties like pink Hawaiian ginger, celeriac, and chard. But there are plenty of favorites like tomatoes, melons, and squash. If you don’t know how to cook something like daikon, check your e-newsletter for a timely recipe.
What we didn’t: No choice. Bummer if you hate eggplant or collard greens. serenbefarms.com
LOVE IS LOVE FARM AT GAIA GARDENS
How it works: Farmers and local food activists Joe Reynolds and Judith Winfrey work the land at Gaia Gardens in Decatur’s East Lake neighborhood. No half shares; full shares are $410 for sixteen weeks, with spring/summer and summer/fall sessions. Pickups are on Wednesdays at the farm or on Sundays at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta. Go to the farm to say hello to Reynolds; he’s the one with the bushy red beard and beaming smile.
What we liked: Love Is Love also sells to restaurants, and it’s easy to see why chefs clamor for the produce. During a spring/summer share, buttery Yukon Gold potatoes, fragrant basil, sweet peppers, small okra pods, early tomatoes, and a bonus supplement of fresh goat cheese from local Decimal Place Farm all stood out.
What we didn’t: The only drawback? Love Is Love is crazy popular, with a waitlist through 2013. Contact the farm now to get on next year’s list. loveislovefarm.com
MOORE FARMS AND FRIENDS
How it works: Laurie and Will Moore—who operate out of Woodland, Alabama, but pool with Georgia farmers—took a unique approach. Members pay a $30 annual fee and can then order online weekly, with no commitment. Choose a $20, $30, or $40 “farmer’s pick” box or pay a $5 surcharge to select your own (mostly organic) vegetables—say, $4 for broccoli and $3 for a bunch of carrots. The minimum weekly order is $20, though they also offer eggs, dairy, meats, prepared foods like salsa and granola, and even dog biscuits.
What we liked: The flexible ordering holds obvious appeal. We tried the $30 box option in the winter, particularly enjoying kale, root vegetables, and organic citrus from Florida. Fresh eggs possessed rich, golden yolks. And with at least twenty metro pickup locations on Wednesdays and Thursdays, the service is mighty convenient.
What we didn’t: A too-sweet bag of butter pecan granola was the only disappointment. moorefarmsandfriends.com
Want more local foods? Explore our complete online guide to area farmers markets.
This article originally appeared in our May 2013 issue.