August 23, 2017

Buy Your Children a Share in a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)

Get a Weekly Share of the Crop – by Pam Laughlin

CSA-ChildrenI really wanted to introduce my three sons to the benefits of gardening. I tried my hand at vegetable gardening at home two summers ago. After spending well over three hundred dollars I think I yielded a couple of jalapeño peppers that the chipmunks were too afraid to eat and a half a bushel of tomatoes. It seemed like a great idea at the time, but the reality of it was that it was a tremendous amount of work with very little results.

Still, I love the idea of growing and eating fresh, organic fruits and vegetables and love the idea of my sons enjoying them even more. I just don’t want to be the one responsible for hauling in the manure or picking the weeds. So this summer I decided to reap the rewards without the work, by purchasing a share in a Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA).

What is a CSA?

In basic terms a CSA is a community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation with the growers and consumers share the risks and benefits of food production. Typically, shareholders of the farm pledge money at the beginning of the season to cover anticipated operation and salary costs in return for shares in the farm’s bounty throughout the growing season. But what it means to me as a mother of three boys is that I can introduce them to farm life without having to farm. Priceless!

I decided to join the Cook Student Organic Farm in New Brunswick, New Jersey. It operates on 5 acres on the Cook College Campus of Rutgers University and is run by eight volunteer student farmers called interns. They offered two different types of shares. A sixteen week share ran from June through September and cost four hundred dollars. The 24 week share ran from June through November and cost six hundred for the season. I opted for the16 week share and was very satisfied with the amount, the quality, and the taste of the produce. It turned out to cost me approximately 25 dollars a week for locally grown, fresh organic produce which I thought was very reasonable.

Here’s how it works:

Each week one of the interns would post a list of that week’s vegetables and herbs, along with the amount each shareholder was entitled to. All you needed to do was sign in, fill your bags with the allocated vegetables that were stored in the refrigerated bins, and head on home with your bounty. Typically I would fill one or two bags each week. An example of a week’s share for October 1st was butternut squash, chard, eggplant, kale, lettuce mix, okra, onions, peppers, spaghetti squash, tomatoes, tomatillos, chives, lavender, lemon grass, lovage, mint, oregano, sage, sorrel, and thyme. It was certainly enough to feed our family of five for the week with enough left over to give to friends and family. Any left-over produce was donated at the end of the week to a local soup kitchen by the interns at the farm.

I especially liked the idea of introducing my children to vegetables that I would not normally use. The college interns published a weekly newsletter that had interesting facts about the farm, a column called “Wicked Weed of the Week”, instructions on how best to store the vegetables and some pretty good recipes. I found that I learned a lot of different things that I would never normally have bothered to learn, and taught my children interesting things like how to make homemade ketchup and greens such as kale, mustard, collards, and beet tops should be stored unwashed with a dampened paper towel and placed in a plastic bag and will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week. Herbs can be dried and stored and parsley, basil and cilantro can be frozen. You can dry and save onions by leaving them in a warm, dry, sunny place for a few days. When the skins are dry and papery they can be stored in a mesh bag and kept in a dry, cool location for months.

My children tasted kohlrabi for the first time. I cut it up like an apple and put it in a salad. It was a little like broccoli, but had a bit of a sweet taste which partnered well with the raisins and blue cheese. Lemon balm iced tea became a summer staple in our house.

There are a lot of other good reasons to join a CSA besides eating new vegetables and trying new recipes. One of the obvious reasons is that the produce was probably picked within a day or two before you get it so it is really fresh, and tastes so much better than store bought. Also, local farms help to preserve open space. When you buy locally grown food you are helping the farmers turn a profit and hopefully it reduces the likelihood of them selling the farmland for development. At least that is what I liked to think when my family and I were juicing our vegetables.

I think my boys began to feel like part of a community when we drove up to the storage shed each week. I needed to slow down to about 5 miles an hour so that I wouldn’t run over one of the chickens that were crossing the road. I liked the idea of my children seeing the clothes hanging on the clothesline and blowing in the breeze – because they certainly wouldn’t witness a scene like that at our house. We also looked forward to seeing the interns sitting outside and selling cut flowers and seedlings. We enjoyed sharing recipes and opinions about whether or not we liked a new vegetable with the other shareholders.

I really think my children enjoyed going along with me and learning about nature and agriculture and the names of the vegetables. It felt good exposing them to life on a farm and I hope that it helped to create a good memory for them. Also, it was good for them to see where the vegetables at the grocery store come from and to teach them the benefit in buying locally.

If this sounds at all like fun to you and you want to join a CSA, you can locate one near where you live by entering your zip code at

As just one person it often seems like there’s not a lot that you can do to help preserve the land and community for future generations. However, there are some things that I feel obligated to do. I purchase green cleaning supplies or make my own cleaning solutions, I use floresant light bulbs, I buy clothes that don’t need to be dry cleaned, and I buy organic whenever possible. I will now add, participating in a CSA to that list. It not only gave me and my family access to nourishing and flavorful food, but it made me feel good that we helped to sustain a farm for future generations to enjoy – and it was so easy to do.


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