CHARLESTON, W.Va. — You may not want to grow your own food, raise livestock or tend to coops of chickens laying eggs — something many of our ancestors did because they had to. But you can still access hand-picked, farm-fresh foods, fresh meats and ripened fruits and vegetables, for pickup or delivery to your home directly from local farmers every week.
That’s the idea on which Community Supported Agriculture memberships are based.
It’s like being a farmer without having to get your hands in the dirt.
“You’re playing a role in food production and sharing in the risks and rewards of that business,” said Elizabeth Spellman, executive director of the West Virginia Food & Farm Coalition.
According to Spellman, producers benefit from this kind of arrangement because CSA members sign up in advance and either the membership is paid in full or a payment plan is arranged, which cuts down on the amount of potentially wasted produce and allows the growers to cover costs early in the growing season.
Meanwhile, consumers are able to learn where their food is coming from and the process by which it is supplied.
There’s also a social benefit for both parties.
“The farmers get to sell directly to the consumers and establish a connection with the people that are purchasing their product,” explained Spellman, “while allowing consumers to feel supportive of local business.”
Here’s how it works.
Prospective members apply for a CSA through a participating farm, farmers market or food hub. They select the plan that’s right for them — for example, vegetarian, meat, individual portion or family size.
“We [The Wild Ramp] have a meat and a vegetarian option,” said Lindsey Good, local foods coordinator at Unlimited Future Inc., the organizing agency for The Wild Ramp in Huntington.
“We offer both because our meat is pretty much neck-and-neck with our produce sales. We’ll also add dairy and other items every once in a while as they are available. We do not shy away from variety.”
Members also sign an agreement that states the potential risks that might occur and affect the member’s portion, or share, such as natural crop damage.
Once the season or specified start date rolls around — about this time every year — their share is either delivered to their home each week or the CSA member picks up their allotted share at a designated location on the agreed-upon date and during the promised time period. If a share is not picked up, then it is usually donated to a local nonprofit.
The cost of a CSA plan depends on the share size and length of membership.
Gritt’s Farm, in Buffalo, has a newly established CSA with single-, half- and full-share options that can be paid for monthly or in advance of the 24-week season.
A single, designed for one person, costs $180 for the entire season or $35 per month; the half, designed for two people, costs $350 for the entire season or $70 per month; and the full, designed for four people, costs $550 for the entire season or $100 per month.
“The pricing is set up in a way that you will get a higher value of produce than what you’re paying,” said Brad Gritt, assistant manager for the family farm.
Shares usually include a variety of spring, summer and early-fall produce like leafy greens, ripe tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, melons, sweet corn, apples, peas and potatoes, though some, like the one managed through The Wild Ramp, may also include additional local products such as meat, dairy, eggs and honey.
The Wild Ramp’s next CSA will begin in May, and 25 memberships will be available on a first-come, first-served basis starting Monday. Prospective members can find more information at www.wildramp.org/csa- program-overview-and- registration.
Gritt’s Farm CSA will kick off on Monday; prospective members can apply online at www.grittsfarm.com/members/types through June 10.
CSAs are a win-win for local farmers who get a reliable supply of customers, and for consumers, who get a steady delivery of farm-fresh foods.
“It’s really the best for both worlds,” said Spellman.