Well, the good news is winter has arrived just in time to think about spring, summer and fall. Part, a big part, of being a seasonal eater is planning ahead and now is the time to let farmers plan for you. You might be thinking of roasted potato soup and hearty comfort foods, but farmers are thinking of crisp salad greens, spring broccoli and garlic scapes. Now is the best time to subscribe to community supported agriculture (CSA) programs to ensure a bountiful and veggie-filled 2012.

Joining a CSA is a great way to become a seasonal eater and it’s pretty simple. Find a farm you like with an established CSA program, prepay them somewhere between $400-$550 and wait in eager anticipation of your weekly pickup date where you can expect a box, bag or basket filled with what is in season – lots of salad greens and cool weather crops in the spring and loads of tomatoes in late summer. Food offerings vary by farmer – some include eggs, others fresh flowers, but most will provide a variety of fruits and/or vegetables. CSA dates vary by farmer but most host programs from May-October.

Your subscription is referred to as a share. You will buy either a full-share or a half-share, if one is available. Typically a full-share will feed a family of four or two vegetarians but all farms are different, so be certain to clarify share expectations. As an investor in the farm you assume the risks and rewards of the season. If a hailstorm wipes out a crop, then your weekly vegetable box might be a little sparce or even empty, but if the weather cooperates then ready yourself to indulge in the season’s bounty. If you are thinking, I really don’t need 10 pounds of tomatoes, and canning or freezing isn’t on your seasonal agenda just yet, many farms offer half shares for less money.  You can also divide it on your own by splitting the cost with a friend and alternating pick up weeks. Shelling out a car payment to a farmer might seem like a lot but it averages about $22 per week to get fresh, often organic and always local food for a family of four. You can spend the same amount in a week on Starbucks coffee for one. When put in perspective, fresh local food is actually quite affordable. 

“If each of the 791,863 occupied households in Nebraska committed to spending just $10 per week on locally-grown foods we would keep over $411 million of our food dollars circulating here in Nebraska, helping both family farms and our local economy. And we’d have the added benefit of eating fresher, tastier, healthier food,” said Billene Nemec, coordinator for Buy Fresh, Buy Local Nebraska in a 2011 interview.

By participating in Community Supported Agriculture you are more than doubling your local food dollar footprint and you gain a personal relationship with those who grow your food and feed your family.

Picking the Right Farm for You

It’s best to subscribe to CSA with a farm who has been through a season or two, that way you know they’ve had a chance to work out the kinks and you are less likely to be disappointed. Most importantly ask questions.

“Different farmers grow different things and different seasons bring about different crops. It’s important you know you aren’t going to get asparagus in August and tomatoes won’t come in May,” says Joletta Hoesing an organic farmer and co-owner of Green Leaf Farms in Omaha.

A CSA program is a partnership. CSA funds are often used to purchase seed for the upcoming growing season, so its nice if you can pay the full amount when you subscribe to your CSA program. However, many farmers will consider a payment plan option. Decide ahead of time if you want organic, sustainable or conventionally grown produce and ask the farmer about its certifications. Find out how many varieties of which vegetables the farmer plans to grow. If part of your eat local goal is to obtain a better understanding of how food is gets from field to fork then look for CSA programs, such as Black Sheep Farms, that request work hours as part of their CSA subscription. Perhaps you’ve spent your whole life microwaving frozen beans from a bag and you wouldn’t know what to do with an eggplant. Never fear. Part of the CSA experience is learning about food. Many farmers such as Terra Sorenson at Rhizosphere Farm in Waterloo, Ne., provide recipes, which will help you expand your seasonal eating repertoire and most are more than happy to give you cooking tips.

“For me the big thing was being introduced to new veggies that I wouldn’t have picked out for myself, including leafy greens and root veggies. Things that I know are good for me, but I would’ve never gone out of my way to pick them out for myself,” said Elizabeth Chalen who has subscribed to Rhizosphere’s CSA for three years. “Now I can’t live without them.”

If you’ve been dipping your toes in the waters of becoming a full-fledged seasonal eater then CSAs are a great way to dive in. Most of the work is already done. Once you subscribe sit back, wait out the cold and daydream of spring onions and sunshine.

Farms with CSA Programs

Black Sheep Farm: www.blacksheepfarms.com

GreenLeaf Farm: www.greenleaffarms.biz

Iowana Farm: www.iowanafarm.com

Rhizoshpere Farm: www.rhizospherefarm.com

ShadowBrook Farm: www.shadowbrk.com

Tomato Tomato offers a group CSA: www.tomatotomato.org/csa

Lists CSA programs by state: www.localharvest.org

Resource for local foods: http://food.unl.edu/web/localfoods/farmerrancher#Vegetables

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