(from our CSA on Tuesday: tomatoes, Sungold cherry tomatoes, zucchini, squash, poblanos, bell peppers, green beans and an eggplant)
It's a great time to be a member of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). The idea is that you as a consumer pay money for a share of the product grown by a farmer. For many CSAs you go with what I call the "pig in a poke" method -- your weekly fee earns you a mystery box of stuff which happened to be harvested that week. We're just not the kind of family to do well with being thrown a random collection of turnips, beets and bok choy, etc. The reason we really like our CSA, Brinkley Farms in Creedmoor, is that we pay a set amount of money up front and then have X$ to spend per week. Each week we're e-mailed out a menu of our choices based on what they have to offer, so we get to control what we buy. We can also bank some of our money for future weeks if we don't want to spend it all that week. Even better is that Brinkley (also unlike many other CSAs) offers meat. They raise animals on the farm and the meat is processed in NC (Acre Station in Pinetown) so we have local meat choices as well as produce. And let me tell you, their sausages are just simply out of this world.
Brinkley also offers choices for where you want to pick up your share, whether on the farm or in Raleigh, Durham or Carrboro. We pick ours up on Tuesdays at Duke Gardens, where there are also 5-6 other vendors selling produce at a mini-farmers market.
So that's why we love our CSA. What's the downside? Well, the cost. It's definitely higher that what we would pay in a grocery store, but we know that. We're willing to pay more because it's grown locally and because we're directly helping a farmer to stay in business. The Brinkleys will then use their money in the community as well. It's not organic but I'd rather have fresh and local over organic shipped from California with the money going to some conglomerate.
You also need to pay attention to the rules. We goofed once last year and just plain forgot to go pick up our share. When I e-mailed to ask what to do I was told that we would just lose that week's share (and in effect $18). Ouch ... but that's the rules they wanted to play by. On the other hand, I was supposed to bring the check last Tuesday to pay for the entire next twelve weeks and forgot, and I was told "don't worry about it, just bring it next week." Definitely not something you'd hear at Whole Foods or the Teeter.
I read about a guy who had a not so good experience with his CSA -- see his post but also read the farmer's reply. By the way, this CSA is Coon Rock Farm, the same folks who will be doing the new Eno Restaurant and Market in Durham. Farming is a difficult venture but it would seem that if you're willing to do a CSA you as the farmer would need to be a little more consistent (or reduce the number of customers).
Where to find a CSA? Here's one list, and a searchable database here. By the way, I originally learned about Brinkley Farms from this post last year from cookingeatingdurham.