The kind of glee that CSA bags can instill in even the most jaded of fast-foodies is rather remarkable to watch. Just ask my children, who before last summer eyed anything green or leafy with serious suspicion. They now clamor for kale, organic carrots and fresh apples. Miraculous.
For the uninitiated, CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), is a sort of subscription to an individual farm. You pay somewhere between $10 and $30 (sometimes more) per week directly to the farm, and in return are delivered a weekly box or canvas bag stuffed with a surprise selection of freshly harvested fruits and vegetables. One week it may be greens, apples, peaches and onions; the next something completely different. Various CSA’s also include fresh eggs, cheese, bread, meat and even flowers. Call it one stop shopping with a conscience.
And though paying up-front for your subscription (which helps the farmers with crop planning and expenses) can be a bit paralyzing to some, working out the math over the long-haul makes the deal comparable — and even cheaper in our case — to weekly grocery bills.
Not to mention the thrill of discovery at what the farmer left for us this week.
Canvas Ranch: At this bustling sheep ranch and farm in west Petaluma,
Deborah Walton and her husband have turned neglected pastures into a
fertile landscape boasting everything from tomatoes and cauliflower to
peppers, beets and zucchini. Several times a year, CSA members are
invited to tour the property, meet the teddy-bear sweet mini sheep and
tour Tim’s on-site art studio. What makes this CSA so special are
add-ons including Della Fattoria bread, local cheeses, eggs and
flowers. It can all add up, but you can try out the program for $112 (4
weeks) to get started. (707) 766-7171, www.canvasranch.com.
First Light Farm: There’s plenty of buzz about Nathan Boone’s
biodynamic farm, now offering a year-round CSA. Boone walks the walk of
earth-friendly, sustainable farming, taking the philosophy one step
further into promoting health and healing through food. “Food is
medicine”, says Boone on his website. And among his fans: Cathryn
Couch, executive director of Sebastopol’s Ceres Community Project,
which provides food for seriously ill patients. Subscription is $1,000
for 50 weeks, with an annual commitment required. firstlightfood.com,
Tierra Vegetables: Renowned for the more than 20 varieties of chiles
grown on their farm, this brother and sister operation also produce
enough vegetables for a growing legion of CSA fans. The focus is on
vegetables at Tierra, but that doesn’t just mean kale and spinach.
Expect fun discoveries like dried chipotle powder, homemade catsup,
cactus leaves and beans as well as the sporadic inclusion of berries,
melons and other seasonal fruits. Best of all: Entertaining
explanations of the week’s bounty and intruiging recipes on how to cook
up your goodies. $600 per season, June to Christmas.
www.tierravegetables.com, (707) 837-8366.
Laguna Farm: One of Sonoma County’s oldest and most popular CSA’s,
Laguna Farms describes itself as “beyond organic”, and offers
memberships for as few as three months. Organic bread, seasonal fruit
and extra salad mix are available for an additional charge. Sign up:
$75 deposit plus $17 week; lagunafarm.com, (707) 823-0823.
Sol Food Farm: New owners Ken Gibson and Lori Dawn Meier, formerly of
Mudpie Farm, have taken over this Occidental farm and have lots of big
ideas for the future of the CSA. They’re incorporating new biodynamic
practices, adding animals. $750 for 25 week season, pick up at the
farm. solfoodfarm.org, (707) 604-7120.
Valley End Farm: Though you may not know it, you may already be eating
from Santa Rosa’s Valley End Farm, the largest certified organic farm
in Sonoma County. The Grossi family have more than 70 acres, locally,
and sell to Safeway, Whole Foods, restaurant suppliers and at area farm
markets. The CSA offers a handy four week trial for those just dipping
their toes in, ranging from $60 to $100 (based on the size of your
box). www.valleyendfarm.com, (707) 585-1123.
Orchard Farms: Weekly door-to-door deliveries from this small,
family-run organic farm in Seastopol. Orchard Farms 10951 Barnett
Valley Rd, Sebastopol, CA 95472. Phone (707) 823-6528.
Foggy River Farms: Twenty-something farmers Emmett and Lynda begin year
two of their back-to-the-land adventures. Along the way they’ve
garnered the goodwill and support of CSA members, and have a few spaces
left for late-comers to their Healdsburg program.
farming101.wordpress.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Petaluma Bounty Farm: Seeking to provide healthy food for low-income
families, Petaluma Bounty serves up “Bounty Boxes” of fruits and
vegetables at wholesale costs using donated land and volunteers to work
the land. The growing program also includes support for backyard and
community gardens and “gleaning” by Bounty Hunters — where unused
harvests (often from backyard trees) is collected and distributed.
Retail members are invited (those above maximum income requirements) to
join as well. ($10-$18 per week, depending on income)
www.petalumabounty.org or 707-775-3663
Sonoma County Meat Buying Club: Want a little meat with your kale?
Local meat producers have been organized by the University of
California Cooperative Extension in Sonoma County in a
direct-to-consumers club for everything from grass-fed beef to humanely
raised pork and pasture-raised chickens. More exotic cuts like duck and
goat are available as add-ons and several CSA’s (Tierra, Canvas Ranch,
First Light, Laguna Farms) are collaborating with the club for
one-stop-shopping. (Three-months obligation,
Singing Frogs Farm: Though only a few spots remain, this Sebastopol CSA
is popular not only for its Wednesday delivery of produce, flowers and
eggs, but for additional member benefits like their summer blueberry
festival, pumpkin harvest and invitation to swim in the pond farm or
walk through the “Enchanted Bamboo
Forest”. www.singingfrogsfarm.com/Site/CSA_Info.html (707) 829-1389.
($560-$756 per season)
Wild Rose Ranch: Though tiny — at just about an acre — this Santa
Rosa CSA grows dozens of veggies and guarantees at least five different
types in each week’s box. $475 for 25 weeks (June through Thanksgiving)
plus three hours of time spent in the garden. Santa Rosa, Cotati pick
up locations. sonomamountaincsa.blogspot.com or 707-545-6062.
Check out even more CSAs online: www.pressdemocrat.com/csa