Investing in a CSA is the best way to connect with a specific farm, and it creates a pretty solid reason to get up on a Saturday morning (or Sunday morning or even Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons if you’re not into the whole early-riser thing) and get yourself to your nearest farmers market. It’s also a great way to manage your weekly meal budget and, in some cases, even save a little money in the process. And it may possibly be one of the very best ways to support the local economy at, literally, a grassroots level.
If you’ve never experienced a CSA share before, check it out: Each week, your farmers pick out the best of what they’re growing and then load up a box of it just for you. You pick up your box, use your CSA booty all week long, and then come back for more of the good stuff the following week. Easy! Recently, some farms have added a debit-style CSA option, which works just like a debit card that you can use all season long wherever your farmer can be found. Even easier!
And speaking of “easy,” over the past few years, several websites have popped up with the intention of serving as an aggregator/delivery service for area farms, replacing the need for a traditional CSA. Businesses like Dominion Harvest, Horse & Buggy, The Farm Table, and others have appealed to consumers’ demands for convenience, offering home delivery and an array of value-added goods from bread to kimchi. These can certainly be a useful option–I was given one as a gift for six weeks right after I had my daughter, and it was very handy indeed.
But the best way to connect with the farmers and the families that grow your food is to meet them face to face, to give them your time and money and attention personally. Go to their farms! Help out for a day! It’s fun work, and you’ll probably end up taking home more produce than you could ever know what to do with. Farmers are notoriously generous! Each one of the farms on this list is a family operation; they’ve got unique stories to tell and wisdom to share, and it would be a shame to miss out on all that for the sake of convenience.
FIVE RVA CSA’S AND A BONUS THING!
BROADFORK (Certified Naturally Grown)
- Model: Two options–A Farm Share, which is like a traditional CSA and/or a Market Share, which works like a debit system
- Duration: 21 weeks (for the Summer Farm Share)
- Richmond Pick-up Locations: Wednesday afternoon, Central Montessori School in Church Hill
- Do Not Miss: Fresh bread! Great recipe suggestions from Janet!
Broadfork is known for their greens. During the prime market season, they load up their tables with kale, collards, chard, microgreens, and salad greens. Plus they’ve got all the basics covered admirably–tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, onions, garlic, squash. But what I love most about Broadfork are their deep cuts.
One Saturday, I watched as a woman from Korea broke down in tears at the sight of shiso, aka perilla or sesame leaf. She was so excited to see the fresh, anisette-tasting, slightly sticky leaves with her own eyes that she wrote its name in Korean on each remaining bag before leaving with a huge smile and her very own bag of treasure. I love that I never know what I’ll find at Broadfork but that, whatever it is, Janet Aardema will have a suggestion for what I should do with it, and dang if she doesn’t know exactly what she’s talking about.
CRUMPTOWN (Certified Naturally Grown)
- Model: Classic CSA with three size options, plus the ability to add an eggshare for $100 more
- Duration: 25 weeks from mid-May to mid-October
- Richmond Pick-up Locations: Saturday morning South of the James Farmers Market or Wednesday afternoon Lakeside Farmers Market
- Do Not Miss: Around August, they’ve been known to have edamame!
Crumptown Farm, located in Farmville, are one of the stalwarts of the farmers markets, selling year-round at the South of the James in the spring and summer and the St. Stephen’s indoor market in the winter. Brad and Lyndsay Constable are generous with their CSA, which they handpick every week for their subscribers. The shares are overflowing with cabbages, potatoes, beans, and whatever else they’ve got a high volume of for the week, making them a great value. The large CSA from Crumptown would be excellent for a family that likes to make a weekly menu plan and stick to it.
If, however, you happen to fear long-term commitment, consider Crumptown’s “Test Drive” option, which splits their large 25-week share down the middle and allows you to opt to continue or not based on how addicted you became to the abundance of lovingly grown produce over the previous 12 weeks.
PINE FORK (No certs, but, “all produce is grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides,” according to their website)
- Model: Classic CSA
- Duration: 20 weeks from May 30th to October 10th
- Richmond Pick-up Locations: Saturday morning at South of the James Farmers Market or Sunday morning at Carytown Farmers Market
- Do Not Miss: Mushrooms! Figs! 15% discount for CSA subscribers!
Pine Fork Farm in Quinton, Virginia is owned and operated by Teal Brooks, who holds a degree in Sustainable Agriculture from the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. Fellow farmer Autumn Campbell of Tomten Farm1 recommends Pine Fork CSA’s because Brooks offers a good selection of herbs and some specialty produce, and Pine Fork one of the few CSA’s to include mushrooms. And if your regular share makes you hungry for even more produce, you’ve got a 15% discount on all Pine Fork produce and eggs through the season.
ORIGINS (Certified Naturally Grown)
- Model: Debit
- Duration: 30 weeks
- Richmond Pick-Up Locations: Saturday morning at St. Stephen’s Farmers Market, Tuesday afternoon at William Byrd Community House Farmers Market
- Do Not Miss: Their newsletter! Origins produce is lovely, exceptional in fact; but what really sets them apart for me is This Farming Life, their newsletter, which is written by Alistar each week. In it, you’ll find reflections on the seasons, on, appropriately, farming life, on building a family and a business and generally on being a good person. There’s poetry sometimes. It is sincerely uplifting stuff without being all weird about it.
Alistar and Rebecca of Origins Farms in Hanover offer a 30-week debit-style CSA share (large or small) wherein subscribers can choose how much or little they want to debit at either of their two farmers market locations all season long. Subscribers also get first dibs on some of the best stuff.
A special table sits at the back of Origins’ tented market-table-peninsula with premium produce for CSA bags only! Hands off, common customers! Access to that table, alone, is worth a subscription; but Origins’ CSA is also an excellent model for someone who values a more flexible approach and for someone for whom the process of shopping is as enjoyable as actually having the food.
VICTORY (Certified Naturally Grown)
- Model: Debit
- Duration: 24 weeks
- Richmond Pick-Up Locations: Forest Hill Presbyterian Church, Forest Hill neighborhood farmstand (exact location TBD), and on the farm located at 7001 Osborne Turnpike, in Varina, five minutes from Rockett’s Landing
- Do Not Miss: Poultry and beef from partner farms in Hanover
Elby-award-nominated Victory Farms offers a great variety of produce, from staple produce to heirloom varieties. They’re known for consistent quality and the kind of variety that has made them a favorite among local chefs.
Victory also uses the debit method, and subscribers can opt for a large or small share. Subscribers must use the entirety of their $500 or $350 bank by the end of Victory’s 24-week season, but, if a balance remains, Victory will donate the remainder to FeedMore, which is pretty awesome.
Because of the availability of eggs, poultry, and beef; Victory is a potential one-stop CSA, with the flexibility and freedom of a debit model and an ample enough selection to keep subscribers from burning out on any one thing.
BONUS THING: FAITH FARMS HERD SHARE
It’s illegal to sell raw milk in the state of Virginia, but that doesn’t have anything to do with demand for raw milk. The crafty farmers at Faith Farm have come up with a solution, the herd share.
The concept is this: It’s not illegal to drink fresh milk from a cow you own, so Faith Farm sells you a cow and then boards it for you (cowboarding!), charging you for the fee of caring for your cow (which you can actually visit!). The cost ends up being a one-time fee of $100 for a full share or $50 for a half share for the life of the cow, plus $35/month for a gallon of week each milk or $18/month for a half gallon each week. Voila! Fresh milk with laws unbroken!
Photo by: Mary Delicate
- How could I leave out Tomten Farm or, for that matter, Amy’s Garden!? Their CSA’s are already sold out for 2015! Early birds, you win again! Tomten’s Autumn Campbell says growing their CSA program isn’t their main focus right now. And Amy Hicks of Amy’s Garden says they’ve already started a waiting list for 2016, so get on it, especially all my fellow tomato lovers out there. ↩
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