Around here, there are a couple of sure tipoffs that a new season is approaching. One is the growing pile of seed catalogs on our bedside table. There is something satisfying–no, better than that, there is a sense of momentum–in sending off the season’s first seed order. On the wall calendar it is still February and the weather forecast sometimes hints at snow, but that envelope has real promise that spring is just over the horizon.
A couple of other signs this week: The early daffodils have started blooming at the bottom of the drive and down in the greenhouse Rebecca is busy filling seed flats with spinach and leeks. Yesterday, we cranked up the BCS rototiller and started getting the garden ready for the first Walla Walla onions. Louisa, wasting no time, has already tilled and planted pea shoots down on the lower field
But the real indicator that the year is tilting into a new season is our swelling roll of CSA subscribers. CSA, for the uninitiated, stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Local Harvest, a web outfit that keeps a tally of CSAs around the country, estimates there are more than 2,500 CSA programs and there are probably almost as many ways they operate. In ours, you pay a lump sum up front–$650 for full subscribers, $500 for smaller split shares. Then, beginning in early June, you show up at the farm, or at our Bainbridge Island pickup spot, the Johnson Farm, and collect a weekly box of veggies and a flower bouquet.
Our CSA season lasts about 22 weeks, until the end of October, and it is a pretty good deal all around. The subscribers get 10% to 15% more produce for their money than they’d get at the local market; we, the farmers, harvest an early crop of cash to get us going on a solid footing.
This model has a couple of advantages. By rotating through a diverse spectrum of vegetables we enhance the soil, plus subscribers get a wider pallet of choices–it’s a big world out there, you never know whether you’ll like kohlrabi unless you try it. Of course, everybody has favorites, but if everyone just selected tomatoes and corn that would leave a lot of other veggies to be carted back home, uneaten, at the end of the market. We think our way minimizes leftover waste and spoilage and opens new gustatory vistas for our subscribers.
Rebecca is something of a CSA pioneer in this part of the country, having started her first program with 11 subscribers on Bainbridge Island, 19 years ago. Some of those early subscribers are still with us and the program has grown quite a bit since those early days and now includes quite a spectrum of subscribers. Last year, for instance, we delivered five weekly boxes of veggies to the Suquamish tribe’s Women, Infants and Children’s program and Rebecca taught a class in cooking them. We’ll be doing that again this year and Rebecca will be giving a workshop on CSAs March 5 at the West Sound Small Farms Expo at Olympic College in Bremerton WA. Drop by for the show.
Other farms use different CSA financial models–some, for example, let you choose your own vegetables at the farmers’ market each week, drawing against your deposit. Others deliver to your home or business. Some let you “subscribe” week-to-week. We chose our system because it regularly brings our subscribers to the farm for their food. “Farm to table” has become a bit of a cliche these days–and a not-quite-accurate one at that in many cases, unless, of course, you think that route includes side trips through a supermarket warehouse or a couple of delivery vans.
In any event, “community” seems to be a critical element of the CSA model, but defining that word can be tricky. Can a community stretch across a thousand miles of delivery routes? Are you part of a community if your exposure to your tomatoes and chard never takes you near the farm where they are grown–or the farmer who grows them? Are you supporting community by picking up your produce at a supermarket?
Among other things, we plan to spend some time on this blog this year examining the concept of community–at least as we see it. We’d love to hear your comments as well.