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Feb 23, 2008 07:57 AM

Pittsburgh CSA

Carole's post inquiring about a CSA in Philadelphia prompted me to ask about options in Pittsburgh. I was a member of Penn's Corner last year and while it was fine, it wasn't impressive. I felt that some of the produce was sub-standard. I'm thinking of switching to Kretchman Farm's CSA, but I've heard mixed reviews. Any Pittsburgh folks out there with a strong recommendation for a CSA? Thanks!

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  1. We did Kretschmann Farms last season, and plan to renew for this season. Everything we got was high quality, and Don and his staff are amazingly responsive and helpful. Our pickup location is just a few blocks from our house, so it's convenient, and it seems like they have a ton of locations. We've also gotten a few of their winter boxes. Great customer service and great veggies - we've got no reason to switch.

    5 Replies
    1. re: addiegirl

      Agree. Only trouble for us as just two people is even the small can be slightly overwhelming at times. But we had great fun with it, ate far more different things with veggies than we otherwise had been doing. Did some oof the extras too: we got 1/2 bushel of basil and froze a bunch, got a lot of blueberries and froze those (and this just with a normal fridge/freezer), 1/2 bushel of apples in the early fall. Much fun. Getting local organic mesclun mix is a nice treat. Only very rarely were we wishing for something different in the box.

      We sometimes found some of our never eat stuff in the box, and it was always a dilemma. Sometimes we put them in someone else's box that was still there at the pickup point. Sometimes we would take home and try to give to someone else. I think we may adjust our never eat list a bit more, but otherwise we have full intention of sticking with it.

      I suppose not everything is always in the best of appearance, but I think this is to be expected at this level of farming. Even if the appearance is odd, the taste has always been better than any of that stuff shipped in from far away, IMO. Nothing has ever come already past prime or anything like that, just that leaf veggies might have holes, a squash might have a little ding in it, etc. No big deal. A complaint I've seen a few times is that it comes kinda dirty, which is true to a degree certainly for some of the veggies, but not an insurmountable problem. I consider that just part of the process that it has to be cleaned and stored properly (or stored dirty then cleaned before use, depending upon vegetable).

      2008 signups are already being taken. The sooner you sign up, the better they plan for peoples likes and dislikes, to at least some degree. I just scrolled down to where it says "Special this year" and it sounds like a few more good new things are on tap! (I did read the renewal email a couple weeks ago, but that writeup was not in the email.)

      1. re: CrazyOne

        Could someone please explain to me how this works? I've never heard of this before. Anything in the Belle Vernon area that anyone knows of?

        1. re: Rick

          Hi Rick,

          CSA stands for community supported agriculture. You can read about it, and look up local CSAs, here:

          Basically, you purchase a subscription with a local farm, and in return you get a share of what the farm produces. It allows the farm to plan out their harvest, knowing that it's already paid for. And it allows you to have a direct relationship with a local farm and get fresh, local, usually organic produce. We use Kretschmann Farms, and we get a weekly crate of vegetables that we pick up at a house in our neighborhood. I believe it works out to be about $21 per week, and it's more than enough for two people. They have different options for different sized households. The Local Harvest site has more information about other Pittsburgh CSAs - I'm not sure which farms deliver to Belle Vernon, but you could contact the to find out.

          1. re: addiegirl

            Thanks, definitely sounds like something I'd like to do. I work in the city (near the waterfront) so I'm sure I'll be able to find something.

            1. re: Rick

              This was the 2007 drop point list for Kretschmann:

              They can and do adjust this annually based on where subscribers are and who volunteers to host a drop point. Hosts get a 1/3 discount. (Wish I could host! Just not a good spot for it.) Belle Vernon is of course rather far for these guys, but may be able to consider arranging to host at work if you have enough people there who would sign up or if you can allow outsiders to pick up there. And you need a flexible enough company to allow it I guess.

    2. I can highly recommend the CSA run through Harvest Valley Farms. However, I'm not sure about their pick-up locations outside of two in the northern 'burbs, including one at the farm in Valencia. More info at

      Early in the season the selection is not great, but as it moves on into June, it gets much better, and there is always a great deal to choose from each week: strawberries, raspberries, chard, field greens, a wide variety of peppers, onions, leeks, Kentucky Wonder Beans (one of my favorites). Art King, the patriarch of the family that runs the farm, also does a great job of working with other local farms that do pastured beef, chickens, and pork -- some of the same providers who participate in Slowfood Pittsburgh's farm market.

      There is also a farm market on site at the farm where you can pick up extras of your favorite fruits and veg, and get eggs and cheese from local sources, as well as fantastic jams/jellies, and other stuff.

      This will be our third year with Harvest Valley. They did have some locations closer to the city, but not sure if they're still doing them this year. I actually will be emailing Art King later today, so I can inquire about that, because it doesn't appear to be listed on the Web site at the moment.

      1. Those of you in the South Hills who use a CSA, we were wondering if you feel CSA produce would be appropriate for commercial use. We've thought about using one at our coffeehouse, but we're not set up to wash and store a lot of greens and are also worried about the possibility of bugs being transported in. What is your experience with the amount of greens vs. other veggies in your deliveries? Any bugginess?

        Also, do you think a "normal" (garden variety non-CH eater) would appreciate the "rustic" quality of CSA greens and veggies vs. "cookie-cutter/prettier" commercial produce?

        7 Replies
        1. re: Panini Guy

          Last season, which is mid-May through mid-November, I can recall on two occasions finding a perished critter in our greens, but found while we were washing.

          Can't speak for other CSAs, but the produce we get from Harvest Valley Farms is the prettiest I've ever seen. And the difference in freshness is remarkable, and that is no overstatement. A salad with field greens that have been plucked from the ground within the previous 24-48 hours is a world apart from the field greens that come in plastic containers or bags from the other side of the country. Throughout this winter, when we've been desperate for a salad and pick up a bagged salad from Giant Eagle, I always end up being extremely disappointed and find myself longing for when the weather gets better and I can have a salad with crisp, fresh greens (not to mention tomatoes, onions, etc.).

          Depending on the CSA, I wouldn't be surprised if you could work out some arrangement with the producer to deal with some of your cleaning/storage issues. These folks want to move their product and, in many cases, spread the sustainable movement, so I am sure that's something the farmer would be willing to discuss.

          I think it would be a great marketing point, perhaps even having it listed on a special board "FARM NAME Field Greens Salad," or "Turkey Panini with Tomatoes and Greens from LOCAL FARM."

          Hope you can work something out.

          1. re: Panini Guy

            PaniniGuy - I'm in Bethel Park and use Kretschmann's CSA (small share, including winter baskets.) There is an occasional slug-looking thing in the lettuces, and once I found one very cold cricket in the bushel of basil I purchased to make pesto. Once he warmed up and started moving, I put him in my yard and he hopped away, giving me a chuckle about what can happen when buying truly local, organic produce :) I enjoy the quality of my share offerings, and like the fact that getting veggies I wouldn't normally buy makes me more creative in the kitchen. Knowing the grower is important to me, and I'm looking forward to their partner farms' offerings of local, organic chicken and beef this season.

            The small share does tend to have lots of greens, especially early in the season, but you have the option to limit or exclude things when ordering your share. I find it almost meditative to wash and prep the greens on delivery day, though I understand you may not be seeking a slow, contemplative experience at the shop!

            I think a "normal" customer may be a bit taken aback when looking at an organic apple, for instance - they aren't the fist-sized waxed beauties you get at the grocery store. But, if you present it as "locally grown, organic produce used here" I think it would serve your purpose. I'd buy it :)

            1. re: Panini Guy

              We got a lot of greens, especially in the early part of the season, put greens were one of things we requested on our "always" list. (Kretschmann Farms lets you select things to get "always" or "never.") Yet, we never ever had to throw away (well, compost) any greens, we always ate them all. And we're only two people. Another thing to keep in mind is that due to the freshness of the products, they last a lot longer than the stuff you buy at the store... it wasn't uncommon for salad greens to stay fresh in the refrigerator for a week or more.

              Certainly there was more dirt on the produce that you'd get at the grocery store, but it never felt like too much of a hassle. Nothing that a rinse in the salad spinner couldn't fix. And there are bugs every once in a while... but nothing that's going to take over your kitchen, by any means. Once in a while there'd be some little green buggers in the broccoli, and there were almost always a few worms in the corn, which was easy to solve by just cutting off the top two inches of the ear. A small price to pay for supporting a local organic farm, in my opinion.

              I know that the folks at Tazza D'Oro in Highland Park use a CSA in the summer, maybe you could talk to them to see how it works? (I'm assuming you know them if you're in the coffee house biz?) It seems to work with the customers...

              1. re: addiegirl

                Good idea. I wasn't aware TdO was using a CSA before now. I was talking to their cook/manager Rachel just a couple of weeks ago and thought they just started with a CSA this year, but I could've been mistaken. Needless to say, one bug in a commercial kitchen is a write up from the Health Dept. Their kitchen is much better equipped for immediate washing and larger scale storage than we are. Theirs is the size of a medium-sized resto kitchen with lots of fridge space, ours is the size of a couple of 6' tables, one single door True fridge and no spray faucet ;-(

                1. re: Panini Guy

                  You're right - I just looked back on their website to see if I was mistaken, and Amy did say that she used CSA at home last summer, and just started using it at the cafe this year. My mistake!

                  I hadn't thought about the bug issue in a commercial kitchen... seems like there should be a distinction between organic garden bugs and cockroaches! But I guess a bug is a bug is a bug.

                  Could you get the CSA delivery at home, and bring in whatever veggies you think woud be appropriate for use in the cafe?

              2. re: Panini Guy

                I sold to a coffee house in Shadyside last year through our CSA. It's called Artspace and Coffee House. They seemed to really like it and were palnning to do it again this year. They supplemented the CSA by coming to the Farmers Market as well. I'm not sure what you mean by "rustic quality". I think this might be a common misconception that someone who has never bought local vegetables might have. My vegetables look just like the vegetables that come from California, except that they are more nutritious, keep three time longer,taste much better, and are 100 times safer. (when was the last time you heard of a food recall from local produce?)

                1. re: vegguy

                  vegguy, thanks for that - I'll try to stop up there and talk to them about my concerns.

                  However, before you jump to conclusions about "someone who's never bought local", you should know that I made that statement as I have bought greens and veggies at roadside farmstands and my experience is that quite often the greens and tomatoes are not as prettied up as they are supermarkets.

                  I've been using my own homegrown tomatoes in season for the past two years and even have a tiny plot behind our shop for herbs and smaller veggies. The farmer's markets I've been at in the South Hills seem to do better job with presentation and we also augment with purchases from Simmons farm. Still, none are at the near flawless level of WF or Market District (the latter being the local pantheon to good taste).

                  There are other points and concerns I'd like to make, but they get more commercial and aren't appropriate here, so perhaps we can talk about them offline.

              3. Has anyone used both Kretschmann Farms and Harvest Valley and have a preference? How would you compare the quality of the produce compared to say, Whole Foods?

                Thank you:)

                2 Replies
                1. re: QSheba

                  I have not tried Kretschmann, but I would venture to say you couldn't go wrong with either. I think Kretschmann may be a bit larger, but that's just speculation. Harvest Valley is not certified organic.

                  Based on my experience with Whole Foods over the past year, I would argue that Harvest Valley (and, I would suspect, Kretschmann) is superior. You are not going to have the same selection, obviously, but I can routinely keep many of the fruits and veggies for a long time in the fridge crispers and they are still remarkably fresh. As I said further up this thread, I really like HVF because they work with several other local farms to arrange orders of chicken, beef, pork, etc., and they make the actual transaction quite easy: they pay upfront and you pay them (no markups or anything), not the other farm, so it's really one-stop shopping. They also have the farm market on site and they do sell flowers and herbs and other veg for home gardens as well.

                  1. re: Whigsboy

                    I have signed up w/ Harvest Valley. Correspondence w/ Art King has been helpful and informative and I decided to take the plunge. I'm looking forward to our first basket!

                2. I subscribe to Harvest Valley Farms, and the produce has been EXCELLENT! Absolutely delicious and fresh. Some of the produce comes washed and it lasts SO much longer than produce from the supermarket. Our drop-off point is in Squirrel Hill, which is very convenient. They also go to the farmer's market in East Liberty on Mondays, not sure about other neighborhoods. I highly recommend Harvest Valley Farms.