What is a Farm Share?
Also referred to as CSA programs (for Community Supported Agriculture) or AMAP (for something french), the original concept was that you could buy a share of the harvest for a season directly from the farm before the harvest season begins. A portion of that harvest throughout the season would then be reserved for you, available for pickup from a pre-set location at a pre-set interval, usually weekly. The early cash infusion helped farmers pay for things like seed, equipment maintenance, and labor without resorting to bank loans that are detrimental to their farm's financial health. These programs now exist in many varied forms. And what would you receive for your incredibly commendable forward-thinking?
Farm share subscribers are given access to vegetables, fruit, dairy, or a combination of all three, of a quality not found in grocery stores (there are meat shares as well, but they tend to be less popular). The farmer curates the box from that week's harvest, often picking the morning of or the day before boxing. Even farmer's markets can't compare to the freshness of a farm share box.
While it's true that there used to be a trade-off in convenience, CSA (aka farm share) offerings these days can be more accessible than grocery stores or farmers' markets. Some co-operatives now pool together local farms and manage the logistics of marketing, sign-ups, and deliveries. Other companies offer select-what-you-want and allow add-ons of pantry and other items to give customers a more grocery-store feel online. Not everyone is happy with these new models. Farmers get less of a cut in these scenarios and, at least according to one NY Times article, could be losing their direct customers. But there is another way to look at it. The old model is not something most people can manage. These services offer a way to support local farms when they otherwise would not be able to.
...farmers curate the boxes from that week's harvest, often every morning...
This site's go-to is the Fresh Direct CSA program. Fresh Direct is a grocery delivery service that, at least in the New York area, offers CSA boxes ordered ala carte and delivered to your door. While we agree it's not ideal, it allows us to order the box when we need it and we can skip schlepping a box of vegetables across town and over a river to get it here. Fresh Direct offers two boxes in the NY area at the time of this writing: Hepworth Farms and Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative.
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That said, we encourage anyone who can manage a weekly pickup to begin or remain in a direct CSA relationship. We also encourage more farmers to find creative ways to offer delivery since that is a significant barrier for most people. But for anyone who has never bought a box and wants to try it out before committing, there are options. An ala-carte box is an excellent way to figure out if a program works for you. The website LocalHarvest is one resource that can help you find what's available to you.
Farm shares are mutually beneficial. We stand by the CSA concept, knowing there is a lot of murkiness in the market. Still, some support is better than no support, and we are here to support anyone attempting to give CSA programs of all forms a try. We understand that a massive box of vegetables can be intimidating, particularly if you are not used to cooking every day. We're here to help. If not knowing what to do with a box of vegetables is your barrier to buying a box or subscribing to a program, we have a method that works and meal guides and recipes to get you started.
Farm Shares these days are far more manageable than they might seem, and the quality of the food you'll enjoy, its benefits to your health, and the benefits to the local farming industry are all very much worth the effort.