A Bounty of Choices

As winter wraps up and we look forward to Spring, my winter store of root vegetables and canned green beans is running low, and the freezer is all but empty. I’d be more worries, if CSA season weren’t just around the corner!

CSA stands for “Community Supported Agriculture,” and is a seasonal program with local farmers. Members pay a farmer, or group of farmers, a set fee in full before the season begins. This gives our local farmers the revenue they need to grow their crops – and in return we receive a share of the harvest each week during the CSA season. If it is a great season then our shares will reflect that, if crop conditions were difficult they will reflect that too.

A CSA season lasts, on average, 20 weeks, and costs anywhere from $30-$35 per week (again, paid in full before the season begins). Shares can be as large as a bushel or more (plenty to feed a hungry family of four or more, or to freeze and can some for the winter) or as small as a half bushel (perfect for a couple or small family). What you get varies depending on the week – early in the season you may enjoy  root vegetables and a lot of greens, mid-season tends to bring in tomatoes, green beans, and summer squash, while the end of the season welcomes winter squashes, pumpkins, and a return of root vegetables and greens.  Regardless of the week, you are guaranteed some sort of fresh, local produce to take home and enjoy!

Living in Fredericksburg, we have a bounty of CSA options to choose from. There are a total of 5 true CSA programs in the area currently:  the Fredericksburg Area CSA Program, Blenheim Organic Gardens, Snead’s Farm, Miller Farms, and C&T Produce.

So how’s a foodie to choose?

The first question I always ask is – do you care if it is organic? For some the answer is a quick and definite yes! If that’s you, then I’d recommend looking at either the Fredericksburg Area CSA Program (FACSAP) or Blenheim Organic Gardens. Both offer a summer CSA devoted entirely to local, organic produce. If organic would be nice, but isn’t a requirement, then you may want to consider Miller Farms – they grow using an “Integrated Pest Management” system which uses organic and sustainable methods first, followed by herbicides and other options should they deem them necessary during the season. And if you don’t care if it’s organic so long as it’s local, then you can expand your search to include Snead’s Farm and C&T Produce which grow more conventionally.

The second thing to consider would be convenience of the pick up location. Every CSA has a designated location, day, and even a time when shares will be available for pick up, and they’ll all donate your share if it isn’t picked up within that window. FACSAP, Blenheim, and Snead’s all have pick up locations in downtown Fredericksburg. If you live in Stafford, Blenheim, Snead’s, and C&T each have a pick up location there. Miller Farms allows for CSA pick up only at their farm in Locust Grove, but you can pick your designated day anywhere from Tuesday – Saturday. And Snead’s also has a pick up at their farm out in Caroline County – a great place for the kids to play as well! C&T is probably the easiest fit in terms of location, however, as they have the most options throughout the greater Fredericksburg area.

You may also want to think about your own schedule for food prep, in addition to your availability to pick up on a certain day. Most produce needs to be prepped & cooked or stored within three days, after which much of it may start to go downhill fairly quickly.

Lastly, you should consider share size. My family is Always hungry, and we have plenty of freezer space and the ability (and desire) to can any extra produce we can’t consume in a week. If you don’t want a lot of produce, or aren’t sure how much you can handle, you may want to look at a CSA with a smaller share (such as Blenheim) or one that allows for a half share (such as C&T) or the option to split a share with a friend (something FACSAP, Snead’s, and Miller all allow). Alternately, if you want as much produce as you can get, C&T usually has the largest shares, followed by Snead’s and FACSAP. Of course, shares sizes for any of the CSAs are dependent upon the season and crop conditions each year.

There is no right answer – after all, every option will ensure that you get plenty of fresh, local produce to enjoy throughout the season. And all these CSA’s are currently accepting new members, but most do have a limit on how many shares they can sell. The only way you can go wrong is if you wait too long!

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