Thanks to testimonies from friends and from several local blogs (but especially Yum Yum), I have decided to quit sitting the fence and subscribe to a CSA.
Community supported agriculture, or CSA, has its roots in early 1960s Switzerland, Germany and Japan, when local consumers became concerned about the potential fiscal and health related problems that imported agriculture posed to their communities. For a set number of weeks, consumers purchase a subscription to a local farm entitling them to a weekly share of the crops. There is inherent shared risk and reward in the system, meaning that consumers get whatever the farm grows seasonally (and their share reflects the season’s yield). While contemporary versions of the system have expanded to include specific item ala carte ordering, mostly it works the same way: you subscribe and receive a share, usually vegetables and fruit, sometimes dairy and meat and occasionally even sundry items (apple butter, preserves, cider).
The main drawback of the system is the risk the consumer takes – a thin harvest means little to distribute as shares – but the benefits of the system are immense. Firstly, community supported agriculture does exactly that: supports agriculture in the community. By buying shares of the harvest, consumers are allowing farms to continue to exist, to thrive, to grow. Local farms can continue to feed and educate their communities. Everybody benefits.
In addition, CSA subscribers are given an increased intimacy with the food they eat. Knowing not only where the food has come from but how it was grown and when can lead to a powerful bond between grower, buyer, and the food between them. As a CSA participant, you are getting from a local source, which cuts down on the amount of travel, therefore, short of growing it yourself, you’re getting some of the freshest possible produce.
Western Pennsylvania boasts many local farms, which means a lot of choices when it comes to CSAs. That’s where I need some help. Anyone who has a subscription, which program/farm do you subscribe to? One of my friends, Kait, had a summer box with Isidore Foods, a company that pulls from several farms in Lawrence, Butler, and other counties to offer year-round CSA subscriptions. Because they have drop-off points right down the road from me in Mt. Lebanon, it makes sense to go with Isidore, but what are some other good options?
– Slow Food Pittsburgh has a good, concise guide to choosing a CSA.
– A good discussion thread on Chowhound regarding local CSA options.
– Nice overview on CSAs at Local Harvest.
– Comprehensive list of local farms from Grow Pittsburgh
– Isidore sponsored Eat Local Pittsburgh