Tuesday, March 10, 2015

It is CSA time again!

Choose Community Supported Agriculture

(and why you should pick Lagoner Farm's)

It’s that time of year again! Although I still have three feet of snow outside my window I have begun thinking about warmer weather and the fresh crops that come with it. You may think I am way ahead of myself, but the farmers have already begun thinking about spring crops, and I know that my own mother is already transplanting seedlings in her greenhouse.

Once again this year, our family is choosing to participate in and support a local Community Supported Agriculture. For those that are unfamiliar, a CSA is a joint venture that farms take with a willing group of individuals who pay upfront for a share of the seasons harvest. This usually occurs weekly, but depends on the farm's policy. Distributing crops this way is a huge benefit for farmers for multiple reasons. They are able to spend time marketing their crops in the winter months before the rush of the season when they spend 15+ hours a day working. It gives them funds in advance to invest in their businesses but most importantly, in my opinion, it gives them the chance to get to know their clientele and develop relationships with them.

There are many advantages in joining a CSA. In addition to always having the freshest possible produce every week, you often get introduced to some new and novelty items that you may be tentative about purchasing on your own. It also becomes a family adventure. If you have children, it is a great way to have them become connected to where their food actually comes from. And frequently, at least in my case, they are often more inclined to try new things. Most importantly, it is a guaranteed supply of the freshest produce on a weekly basis that only has an upfront cost instead of the high supermarket prices. I realize many people enjoy visiting their local public market for their produce, and there is no reason why you cannot still do that to pick up something extra. However we all know that once the summer months are here how busy our schedules get, and that weekly trip doesn’t always happen as planned.

Is there a catch, no, but there are also disadvantages. In choosing to become a “partner” with a farmer, you are also taking into account that none of us have any control over mother nature. Crop failures sometimes occur due to pests, disease or drought. Regardless of these situations, farmers who choose to supply a CSA take great pride in their products and will be sure that their members receive the most they can first ahead of any additional product that will then go to market. Also, there could be something in your share that isn’t to your liking or something that was extra plentiful that you are just sick of. A tip: that’s what friends, family, and neighbors are for – to share the harvest! That mentality also goes for the weeks when there is just so much that you cannot see yourself eating it all.

Every CSA is set up differently depending on the nature of the farm. Typically a “summer season” runs for 18-20 weeks beginning in June, or when the crops are ready. Many CSA’s offer “winter” shares that are shorter (6 weeks, or a monthly pickup). Some small CSA’s require that you pick up at the farm only during set hours, whereas others, with the manpower available, provide multiple pick-up locations and times. Some set out the items for the week like an assembly line with guidelines as to how much of something you should take. This is nice because if you just don’t like radishes, don’t take any and leave them for someone else. Others have the shares presorted out, so all you have to do is stop in, grab and go. (But you wont; You’ll stay and chat.) Share distribution is just one of the many differences you will find. Others could be, but are not limited to, requirements that the shareholders put a certain number of hours in during the season helping on the farm in various ways. Frequently you will finds farms that offer extras to their members. Perhaps they have a flock of chickens, and for an extra fee you can receive fresh eggs every week, or perhaps they have partnered with another local supplier to provide you with cheese, yogurt or perhaps grains such as granola. My favorite, and a feature of my CSA, is the option during peak season to pick your own of certain crops to receive double of what you would normally get during the weekly share.

Locally here in Rochester, New York we have a variety of CSA options. Last year we joined Lagoner Farms and have decided to stay with them for many reasons. This was the 3rd CSA we joined. The first was a small organic farm that provided fresh eggs (yum) but because it was such a small farm, they had a huge problem with crop failure and variety. I was disappointed with the choices, and was sick of getting collard greens and kale every week. The second, which we split with another family, was done last year in conjunction with our share at Lagoner. Yes we belonged to two, and yes we ate it all. I really liked the other CSA at Wickum Farms, but the drive for me was a hassle. They provided many u-pick opportunities at no cost and the variety of vegetables was incredible. The lack of fruit was the downside, because they could only provided what they would grow on the farm (cantaloupe, watermelon).

We chose to stick with Lagoner because in addition to providing fresh vegetables, they also have a well-established orchard and included a large number and variety of fruits in their share. Depending on the month/season we saw strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, cherries, cantaloupe, apricots, nectarines, watermelon, peaches and apples. I am sure I have forgotten some, too. With 4 kids who eat a ton of fruit, this was a huge bonus.

One of the many shares I received from Lagoner. From the combination of strawberries and cherries I am assuming early July. The bins kept getting fuller and fuller every week as the season progressed.

Am I doing a shameless plug here? Yes, I am, but I was so pleased that I am happy to use social media to do so. Located in Williamson, New York, the farm has been locally operating for the last century and is always looking for new and exciting opportunities to connect with the community and provide new things. When you visit, you are guaranteed to see one of its owners out and about, happy to chat or just give a smile. They, like many CSA’s, offer either a full or half share option. For 2015, the upfront cost is $420 for the half share and $640 for a full. Payments can be done in full or over a period of time after an initial deposit.

I can hear it already: "That sounds great, but Williamson is so far from me." One perk that Lagoner has over other CSA’s is the wide variety of pick up locations. The best for me is that the farm itself which is only an eight minute drive from my house. But if something was to come up, I could call and arrange to easily pick up at one of their alternate locations for the week. These are located all around the Rochester area providing many options.

Currently, they provide a 20-week CSA share pick up in the following areas:

            Lagoner Farms – Saturdays 10am – noon    
            Fairport Farmer’s Market – Saturdays 8am – 10am
            Greece Farmer’s Market – Saturdays 9am – 11am
            Zion Episcopal Church (Paymyra) Wednesdays 4pm – 6pm
            Restoration Wellness Chiropractic (Webster) Wednesdays 3pm - 6pm
An 18 week CSA share is also available [half $378/full $576] at these locations:

            Southwedge Farmer’s Market – Thursdays 4pm –  6pm
            Irondequoit Farmers Market – Thursdays 4pm – 6pm

So, choosing to take part in Lagoner’s CSA is easy no matter where you live in the Rochester area. And no matter where you choose to pick up, you always have the option to travel to the farm during the u-pick double option times and take advantage of that feature. 

An additional benefit they offer their members is the option to add Artisanal Cheese to your pickup. Provided by Blue Moon Bend Farm & Creamery, for an extra $120 you can receive a different cheese share bi-weekly of their product made from either goat or cows milk. Finally their members receive a 10% discount on anything not on sale in their Williamson farm market, which can add up when you go and u-pick 16 quarts of strawberries for jam (just saying). If you have any further questions regarding Lagoner, and their CSA you can either email them at info@lagonerfarms.com or give the market a call at (315)589-4899. A list of their intended CSA crops can be found here.

I am so excited for the summer growing season to start. I may enjoy the winter months and hot bowls of soup, but as it gets close to summer I begin craving fresh local veggies that are still hot from the sun. There is nothing better than local produce. It can be picked at the peak of freshness, and it doesn’t have to travel thousands of miles to arrive at my door. Perhaps Lagoner isn’t the right fit for your family, but I think it might be, especially with the available pick-up locations. And their prices are very competitive if not less than other options out there – and the fruit, don’t forget the fruit!

For those of you that are screaming, "But I don’t live in Rochester!" Here is a great link to search for CSA’s in your area:

            USA: Local Harvest
            Canada: Ontario CSA Farm Directory (a quick Google search will find other locations in your area, I realize this is just Ontario)

And, if you do choose to go with Lagoner, be sure to tell them Nell sent you. They know who I am.

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