Every CSA, an acronym for community-supported agriculture, is different. There is one similarity, though. "There's a direct relationship between the farm and the consumer," says Amy Cook, Crown Point Ecology Center's farm manager. So the veggies you're getting are locally grown and most likely organic and not sprayed. We headed to the farm to find out more.
1| Sign up now. CSA organizers are compiling their memberships lists now. Wait until May, and there won't be space left. With a couple hundred shares, Crown Point Ecology Center in Bath has a two- to three-year waitlist for membership. First-timers should look for a smaller farm at localharvest.org, where you'll find most of the area CSAs. Cook also recommends heading to your local farmers market. "Go in person," she explains. "Talk to farmers that are there to see if they offer CSA shares."
2| Do your kitchen prep. At the end of each season, Dean's Greenhouse in Westlake gets the same comments: "We got too much eggplant; I don't know what to do with beets." Owner Debbie Dean-Espie warns customers, "This is going to be different from going to the grocery store and picking out what you want." The most successful members enjoy the challenge of finding recipes for the ingredients that arrive from the CSA. A good place to start is with Marilou Suszko's The Locavore's Kitchen.
3| Consider your lifestyle. Many offer full shares, half shares, biweekly shares and extra shares in dairy, meat or fruit, so ask around. Prices vary too. A half-share membership at Dean's Greenhouse costs $325 for around 100 pounds of vegetables over the 17-week season. The full 22-week season at Crown Point costs $575. But, surprise! Many CSAs come with a work requirement. Crown Point members, for example, work at least one three-hour shift on the farm (helping with the harvest, weeding or washing veggies) and can buy "working shares," which involve five three-hour shifts and shave $100 off the yearly cost. Likewise, some CSAs require members to drive to their farm for pickup each week. Some have options. Blue Pike Farm at East 72nd Street offers three pickup times: one at a farmers market and two at their farm.