"Do you have a csa?"

Today is national CSA Day, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to answer a question I hear a lot: Do you have a CSA? The short answer is no. But, there's a longer answer ...

I'm a big fan of CSA - that is, Community Supported Agriculture. In truth, it's a social movement more than a thing you buy, something that can get lost in our consumerist culture.

My first farming experience was with a CSA, right here in central Ohio. I helped co-create one at my college's student farm, I managed a 'City Supported Agriculture' program in Philadelphia, and I packed and delivered fruit shares all around southeastern PA when I worked on an orchard with a CSA. In each case, a critical mass of people "buying into" the farm both literally and figuratively was a cornerstone of the farm's success.

Going to farmers markets is engaging and can be lucrative, but it can also be a big waste of time. There are so many variables outside your control as a producer - weather, traffic, competition, football schedules ... A CSA helps mitigate these problems and provides a known source of income you can plan around.

That's the up side - along with cash flow before the harvest season and the chance to develop deeper relationships between farmers and members. As a member, it keeps you on track to eat fresh food, encourages you to try new vegetables and recipes and gives you access to great food.

But there are down sides as well. It's a challenge to plan for and grow the wide variety of produce that people expect throughout a season. I'd rather specialize in the crops that I like to grow, that grow well in my garden and that are most worthwhile at my very small scale. I also don't like the idea of being indebted all season, even if my "operating loan" is with people who get it, rather than the bank. Farming on my own, I like to reserve the right to spontaneous flexibility once in a while for my own mental health. This might mean taking a week off from harvest or adjusting the planting schedule according to unpredictable conditions. As a CSA member, joining requires a season-long commitment that may not feel right for any number of reasons.


So here's what I do instead ...

Last year I tried something new - a "Harvest to Order" program at the Keller Market House in Lancaster. Each week I would send out a list of what would be available to my email list and people could order what they wanted, if they wanted. Then I delivered the orders each Friday to the Market, where customers could pick them up Friday afternoon or Saturday during market hours.

I don't grow the full variety of a traditional CSA, but I do offer dibs on chemical free, freshly harvested greens and some unique items you probably won't find anywhere else in central Ohio. Harvest to Order lets you reserve some of the most perishable items so you know that they've been harvested for you, usually that morning, while you can browse the market to choose all your other local foods - including more veggies, eggs, dairy, meat, baked goods and staple groceries, all produced within Ohio.

So Harvest to Order is back, and I hope to make it more like a CSA this year - with a little more community. Look for opportunities to visit the farm this spring and chances to meet at Keller Market with their developing schedule of workshops, clubs and events!

Questions? Email me - thekaleyard (at) gmail (dot) com

Interested? Sign up on my email list here and make sure to check the box for "Vegetables in Lancaster."