The author with her son, Abel, at Rise and Shine Farm in Marshfield.

It’s late winter. Probably the last thing you’re thinking about is where you’re going to buy your produce this summer. But if you like to eat locally grown vegetables, now is the time to start figuring this out.

There are hundreds of farms in southeastern Massachusetts. Some of them have farm stands, some sell to restaurants and wholesalers, some set up booths at weekly farmers’ markets. Still others offer Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs.

Are you familiar with the concept of Community Supported Agriculture? A CSA is a program in which a farm offers shares of its harvest to consumers. Before the start of the growing season, shareholders make a financial commitment, enabling the farmer to purchase and start seeds, and to prepare the fields for planting. The farm may also ask its shareholders to volunteer a certain number of hours of physical labor – perhaps spreading compost or removing stones from the fields, planting seedlings or pulling up weeds, harvesting ripe produce or getting it ready for distribution.

Once the fruits, vegetables and herbs grown on the farm start to ripen, the hard work and up-front payments begin to pay off. Every week, shareholders arrive at an appointed time and place and go home with a bag or two of fresh produce — at no additional cost. What they get depends on what’s ready to be picked. In June, it might be a selection of greens, peas, strawberries, and quick-growing root veggies like turnips and radishes. Come July it might be green beans, zucchini, cucumbers and raspberries. August brings tomatoes and peppers, and in September it’s potatoes, onions, carrots, winter squash . . . and who knows what else! So many factors go into farming – it’s hard to predict what will do well and what won’t in any given growing season. Many farms stagger their plantings so that shareholders will receive certain staples — like lettuce – every week.

So what’s the advantage of joining a CSA – if you can buy the same produce at the grocery store at the same price, without having to do any work on the farm or pay for your food months in advance? Well for one, you’re not buying the same produce as that at the grocery store. You’re buying fruits and vegetables grown within a few miles of your home – not flown or trucked in from points south and west. So it’s fresher – and tastier – higher in nutritive value and often grown with fewer/no chemicals.

This is good for you – better nutrition, better quality — plus you get some exercise. But it’s good for the planet too. Locally grown produce makes a far smaller impact on the environment than foods grown elsewhere in the country or the world. The use of fossil fuels, packing and shipping materials, not to mention advertising – all of these are greatly reduced or even eliminated when the food doesn’t have to be transported out of the region where it is grown.
By joining a CSA, you are also supporting the local economy. Shareholder contributions go directly to the farmer. You essentially are paying the salary of the people who grow your food – and paying for start-up costs for which the farmer might otherwise have to take out a loan. The farmer gets the security of having his or her harvest purchased in advance, while you get the peace of mind of knowing — and even seeing — where your food comes from.

Plus, it’s fun! Last summer, my son and I would visit our CSA’s transitional organic farm on Friday afternoons, to pick up our family’s weekly share of produce. We’d chat with the farmers and other shareholders, learn how different plants grow and thrive, and sometimes even pick our own produce. One day, while Abel checked out the farm’s vintage tractor, I gathered enough fresh basil to make a year’s supply of pesto. Another time, he and I harvested almost an entire row of carrots. What a wonderful experience for a child – to learn about how food is grown, to see agriculture in action — and to be a part of it through the entire process, from untilled field, to seedling, to plate.

Most CSAs run from June to October, depending on what the farm yields. While harvest begins in June, work on the farm starts much earlier, as soon as the soil is ready to be worked. That’s why now – late winter and early spring – is the time to join a CSA. These programs are immensely popular, and often have waiting lists.

Listed below is a selection of local CSA programs. Contact them directly for shareholder information – some may already be fully enrolled for 2010.

Marshfield: Rise and Shine Farm – contact Marta MacFarland, 781-837-6702 or email riseandshinefarm@verizon.net

Middleborough:
• Plato’s Harvest
– contact Dave Purpura, (508) 315-9429 or davepurpura@yahoo.com
• Golden Rule Farm at Soule Homestead – contact Frank Albani at (508) 224-3088 or plymouthrockmusic@msn.com
• The Dahlia Farm – call 508.947.8802 or visit www.thedahliafarm.com

Norwell: Norwell Community Farm – contact Jennifer Friedrich at contact@norwellfarms.org or visit www.norwellfarms.org

Plympton:
• Colchester Neighborhood Farm
– contact Ron & Connie Maribett at 781-588-4255 or visit www.colchesterneighborhoodfarm.com
• Sauchuk Farm – call 781-585-1522 or visit www.sauchukfarm.net

Scituate: R & C Farms – call 781-545-6502 or visit http://www.randcfarms-simons.com

For further information on CSAs and other venues for locally grown foods, visit either of these online directories. Local Harvest: www.localharvest.org and SEMAP’s Farm Fresh Food www.farmfresh.org.

By Kezia Bacon-Bernstein, Correspondent
February 2010

Kezia Bacon-Bernstein’s articles appear courtesy of the North and South Rivers Watershed Association, a local non-profit organization devoted to the preservation, restoration, maintenance and conservation of the North and South Rivers and their watershed. For membership information and a copy of their latest newsletter, contact NSRWA at (781) 659-8168 or visit www.nsrwa.org. To browse 13 years of Nature (Human and Otherwise) columns, visit http://keziabaconbernstein.blogspot.com.