CSAs offer savings, help local farmers

June 29, 2010 9:19:09 PM PDT
Thursday afternoons are a busy time here on the Hirsch Family's side porch. One after another, members of the Red Earth Farm CSA stop by to pick up their boxes full of fresh fruits and vegetables. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. And CSA co-ops, where members pay in advance to buy what local farmers grow in a season, are growing in popularity. The Hirsches first joined a CSA about ten years ago. Lauren Hirsch of Wynnewood, Pa., explains, "We had heard there was a farm that sold fresh, local vegetables and we were starting to get into organic vegetables. Things were so expensive at Whole Foods and it seemed like an easy, inexpensive way to get the things that we wanted to start getting." CSA's aren't limited to the suburbs.

Greensgrow Farms in Kensington is also part of a CSA. For 25 weeks, members get produce grown here, along with fruits, vegetables and spices from farms in New Jersey, Delaware and out as far as Lancaster County.

"We base ours on a family of three -- two working adults and a child -- which will feed them for a week.," explains Erik Kintzel, the Fresh Food Manager for Greensgrow.

Greensgrow members pay $775 for 25 weekly pickups or $425 for pickups every other week. Red Earth's CSA season is 23 weeks. Members pay $575 for 10 items per week or $415 for six items.

And while the quantities are plentiful, the selection is limited by what the local farmers are growing at the time.

"It is basically what is in season at that particular time. As the season rolls, you get new products thorughout the year," Kintzel says.

Hirsch adds, "You are a little restricted by what your area grows and what's available in that season. But you learn to adapt to it and you learn to make multiple recipes with the same ingredient. Everyone gets used to eating seasonally and it's the kind of thing where you enjoy what each different season brings."

CSA members we interviewed estimate they save about 30% when compared to buying organic produce from natural food markets.

But the cost savings are just one reason why many CSA members join.

Kimberly Worthington-Kirsch of Wynnewood, Pa., is a mother of five who says she joined Red Earth Farm's CSA because, "It helps the farmers to stay in business, because it's local, because it tastes incredibly good, and beacuse it does save money. You just pay one fee and then you're done."

Red Farm member Howard Serota, also of Wynnewood, Pa., adds, "We're trying to eat better, we're trying to eat less processed food, more fresh food, we like supporting local farmers."

The bad news is that most CSAs have closed their registrations for this growing season. But you can also get locally-grown fresh produce at many Farmer's Markets. For a listing of local farmers' markets, in Montgomery County, Pa., click here. For other farmers' markets in Pennsylvania, click here.

To learn more about Greensgrow Farm and its CSA, click here.

To learn more about Red Earth Farm and its CSA, click here.

For a nationwide registry of CSAs, click here.

For more information about Philadelphia-area CSAs, click here.