Your guide to Community Supported Agriculture and fresh, farm-grown produce in the Bluegrass.
There are so many reasons to eat local, in-season produce — from its high nutritional value, to supporting local farms and showing some love to our environment by scaling back our carbon footprint. Why not combine all of that in one, healthful and convenient swoop?
CSA, which stands for Community Supported Agriculture, gives people a more direct, active role in their personal food chain. When you join a CSA, you become a "shareholder" in a farm. Think of it like a farm subscription.
CSAs have grown more popular than ever in recent years. In addition to fresh veggies, many now provide a wider variety of goods, from to specialty meats, skincare products and flowers to fermented foods and beverages.
So how do they work? There's a lot of variation, but the basic principle is the same — customers pay up front for their share of the growing season, and their initial investment helps farmers plan for the season, repair equipment and make other purchases. Then, usually on a weekly basis, farmers deliver the shares to predetermined pick-up locations.
"Our CSA is the lifeblood of our farm," says Carla Baumann, president of the Community Farm Alliance and operator of Madison County's Lazy Eight Stock Farm. "It creates a relationship between the grower and the eater, which is a win-win for everyone."
Our CSA is the lifeblood of our farm.
Here in Kentucky, seasons typically begin in May or June and end in October or November. Share prices vary, but you can expect to pay anywhere from $450-$650 per season. If you're looking for less of a commitment, some farms, like Three Springs in Carlisle, offer six-week half shares for $150. And Lexington's New Roots program allows customers to purchase a single week at a time. Unlike most businesses, CSAs allow customers to get creative with their payment plans. Many offer volunteer discounts, installment payments, accept food stamps, offer a sliding fee scale, and even provide scholarship shares.
Since one of the primary goals of a CSA is connecting consumers to their food, that also means sharing the risks and rewards of farming. Naturally, farmers will do everything they can to ensure a bountiful harvest, but if uncooperative weather or other circumstances affect the crop, shares might be smaller or different than promised. But, in most cases, the benefits far outweigh the risks.
Bree Pearsall and Ben Abell of Oldham County's Rootbound Farm have been farming for 10 years and operating their CSA for two. Before that, Pearsall managed the University of Kentucky's organic farm and CSA. With the help of their five employees, they bring over 60 varieties of certified-organic produce and grass-fed lamb to about 400 families and 300 farmer's market customers each season.
For Pearsall and Abell, it's also about relationships. Getting to know their shareholders has made the experience much more than a business transaction. "CSA is our favorite business model because it builds a tight community around food and agriculture," Abell says. "It also means that, with an up front customer commitment, we know that the items we grow will have a home."
When asked if members can visit the farm, the answer is an enthusiastic yes. "That is one of the cornerstones of our program," says Pearsall. "We want our members to experience the farm and follow our journey throughout the year." They typically host three events per year, including potlucks, wagon rides, tours, and U-pick days. Abell adds: "We also want to remove abstract ideas around food production and help our members see what life on a family farm is like."
So what are their favorite things to eat from their own farm? "The season is just starting, so we have some baby kale coming on," says Abell. "It's our favorite because it's a preview of all the goodness to come. During the winter we really miss our greens and, now that they're here, it's like kale Christmas every day!"
As Pearsall puts it: "We think everyone should have access to the joy that comes from a perfectly ripe tomato or a crisp, organic watermelon in the heat of summer. Our goal is to get this delicious food onto the plates of as many people as possible."
Ready to get a CSA bounty onto your plate? Check out this sampling of Central Kentucky farms.
A seventh generation family farm raising certified organic vegetables, eggs, pastured chicken, pastured pork, and grass-fed beef.
A Versailles-based duo committed to providing the Bluegrass area with specialty cut flowers.
Scott County farm producing Black Angus cattle and certified organic vegetables.
A Lexington CSA program selling weekly food baskets priced on a sliding scale.
Fayette county farm offering vegetables, meat (including a chicken only option), eggs and vegetables for pick up or home delivery.
A non-profit organization offering a weekly flower CSA with local, seasonal, and chemical-free blooms from June until September.
A small vegetable and fruit farm in Fayette County offering produce, herbs, meats, eggs, flowers, fermented and canned goods from mid-Spring to early Fall.
A 420-acre Certified Organic farm located along Paint Lick Creek in Madison and Garrard counties.
A South Central Kentucky farm with four CSA options including a Protein & Vegetable CSA and an All You Can Eat share.
Organizers of Fresh Stop Markets, public, pop-up fresh food markets.
Located in Oldham County, Rootbound grows high quality certified-organic produce and grass-fed lamb. The Kentucky for Kentucky Fun Mall is a pick-up location.
Walnut Lawn Farm, founded in 1842 in Fayette County, grows row crops such as corn and soybeans, and is the home of Teal Tractor CSA.
A small family farm in Carlisle offering smaller, half-bushel shares (about the size of a brown paper grocery bag) in six-week increments.