Signs of spring were hard to come by in Vermont this year. Late snows and cold temperatures muffled our jubilance over the new season. But this afternoon, there are peepers, a sure sign of spring. And the garlic is peeking up out of the earth!
Another sure sign of spring is the CSA sign-up. For the uninitiated, CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and is the best source of fresh, local food. The USDA defines CSA as “a community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation so that the farmland becomes, either legally or spiritually, the community’s farm, with the growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the risks and benefits of food production.”
The origins of the CSA are not clear. Some say they are modeled after a Japanese practice, others credit Rudolph Steiner for the brilliant idea. The origin story I like best describes 1960s European women’s neighborhood groups approaching farmers to develop direct, cooperative relationships between producers and consumers.
Today there are two types of CSAs: Shareholder and Subscription. In the shareholder model, consumers own more of a stake in the farm and much of the farm work. A core group is responsible for all of the key decisions. The Subscription version is much more common in Vermont. The farmer makes all of the major decisions and does the work of raising produce. Members buy a season’s subscription and eat the bounty of local food in their weekly shares.
The Subscription method is quite fun. You may be introduced to new vegetables you’ve never experienced before like kohlrabi or Jerusalem artichokes. Buying a CSA subscription brings out creativity in the kitchen. Since subscribers don’t always know what they will bring home in their baskets each week, dinner planning is thrown to the wind and cooks have to rely on their instincts (and if they are lucky, tips and recipes from the farmer).
Here are some great Washington County CSAs:
Find a Vermont CSA near you. Click on this map to can search by county.