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CSA 2009

OK, so there is over a foot of snow on the ground (at least where I live), but it's time to start thinking about spring veggies, at least if you want to get space in a CSA. What are people signing up for this year? Were you happy or unhappy with your past year's pick?

I have gone with Stillman's for several years, but took a break last year. I'm in a curious position of being next to farms, but still being 1 hour round trip drive from a pick-up location. I'd be better off in JP at my old address. I was happy with my Stillman's half-share, but never had any other experience. I'm also considering Drumlin Farms and someone in my town is trying to get a group together for Heavens Harvest Farm. So I'm very interested in hearing from others what they are doing.

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  1. I too have been thinking about this lately. I have had Stillman's and Chestnut Farms for meat CSAs but never had a veggie one- just relied on farmer's markets. I was thinking about Parker Farms but the all Cambridge pick ups don't really work for me. Has anyone tried Busa Farms in Lexington? You get "Busa Bucks" for your share and can shop at their farm stand whenever you like and get whatever veggies you like. You also get any of their "pick your own" stuff at half price. Sounds interesting because of the when and what you want part- but I also think that part of a CSA is the challenge of using what's in the box- cooking with stuff you might not normally get. I've never even been to their farm stand, so i don't know how it is. Anyone tried the CSA or the farm stand? thanks!

    3 Replies
    1. re: cjchow

      Cjchow --
      We've belonged to the Busa CSA for two years and I love it. We do a lot of our own picking (you have to do a lot of wandering around in the beginning to find the veg you're looking, but once you get the lay of the land it's not difficult), but the farm stand stocks everything that's being harvested in the field. Their corn and heirloom tomatoes are great, but my favorites are the lettuces (best I've ever had) and the many varieties of squash and eggplant. They don't grow everything, though -- notably no winter squashes or onions. You can buy other veg at their stand, but you can't use your Bucks for it -- can't use the Bucks at the farmer's market, either. They do have a greenhouse and grow a lot of annuals and perrenials and lots of herbs that you can use the bucks for.

      1. re: cjchow

        I had Parker Farms two years ago when he had a pickup at his farm. Now I have Waltham Farms which I like alot. But Parker Farms was great. It may be worth checking with Steve Parker and see if he's willing to set up another pickup location.

        1. re: chowmel

          Had Parker Farms last year, Central Sq. pickup. I liked Steve and wanted to support him, but I felt there wasn't enough variety in his share. We got the same vegetables over and over; a friend counted two months of tomatillos. Also, no heirloom tomatoes! So for 2009 I've gone back to Red Fire, which I had from 2005?–2007. Huge volume, great variety.

          I've also had CSAs from the Food Project and (waaaay back) Siena Farms's founder back when he was starting out on his parents' land! but the former's too long ago for my experience to be relevant now.

      2. We live in Billerica near the Carlisle corner and I'd love to do a CSA. However, the pick-up times seem to be at rush hour, mid-week, at inconvenient places to get to. Arlington, Lexington, Lincoln, etc. just don't work for us given the pick-up days and times I've seen posted.

        I'm looking forward to seeing what people post about their CSA options.

        Hutchins Farmstand in Concord is a quick jaunt but we can no longer afford their prices.

        1 Reply
        1. re: three of us

          I'm at the opposite end of B'rica, on the Wilm/Tewks corner. There are no half-share options that don't entail lots of driving time. I'll have to stick with the farmers' markets - last summer was the first since I retired, so I tried several of the nearest ones: Bedford, Carlisle, Lowell, Lexington, Westford, Andover. Lowell is the smallest, but has good prices and some interesting Asian-and-other-ethnic produce in addition to the all-American staples. The 2008 hours were Fri 3-7pm. East Street Farm in Tewks is a farmstand outlet for one of the farmers' markets regulars, open daily in summer.

        2. We just signed up for our second year at Drumlin. They've added a separate PYO option this year which raises the price a bit but it's worth it for the cherry tomatoes, peas, beans, strawberries, raspberries and herbs. We love it and recommend it wholeheartedly.

          1 Reply
          1. re: bugsmum

            Is the pickup for the Drumlin CSA far from the parking lot? The one time I saw them there was a big tent set up pretty farm inside the farm, which would add to pick up times when dragging two small kids with me. (Not to mention the "I want to see the cows/pigs/chickens/horse complaints") :)

          2. We did Red Fire farms (veggies and fruit, no meat) last year and absolutely loved it. I can't wait for it to start up again. They have lots of pick up spots- just google Red Fire farms to learn details. They're signing up for this season now I think, and it fills up fast.

            1. After close to a decade with Stillman's, Allstonian and I have pretty much decided that we're taking a break and not signing up for a CSA share this year. We have absolutely no complaints about Stillman's whatsoever, it's just that we've decided that this year, we're going to make better use of the various farmer's markets around us. Although we'll still be spending quite a bit of money with Stillman's at the Brookline and JP farmer's markets, we think we want to spread the wealth around a bit more this year: in particular, I want to see more growth at the Allston market this summer, and that'll only happen if we spend more money there, and that'll only happen if we don't already have a giant box of stuff coming from Stillman's every week!

              It'll also be nice to have more spontaneity in what we get from one week to the next.

              1 Reply
              1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                This has been my MO for years. I enjoy meeting all of the farmers and going to different markets. I also have weeks when I have a lot of deadlines and will do take out or dine out instead of cooking.

                I do miss my farmers this time of year but Boston Organics helps. We eat a lot of fruit so that is a good option for us.

                Thanks for supporting a new market. I heard a rumor that there may be an attempt to start a Thursday market at the Pru in the Back Bay. Then I would have one more market within easy walking distance. But, I do like going to Brookline on Thursdays when I need something or just want to see a different choice of providers.

              2. Just joined the Houde Farm meat CSA in January - fabulous meat in the first delivery, albeit virtually all pork. Sausage was particularly great.

                Tried to get a spot in the local Belmont CSA but no room available... have been considering Waltham Fields for a few years but the pickups aren't particularly convenient and my better half (who would be doing most of the actual work) has been balking.

                We did the Appleton Farms CSA several years ago and it was great, but no longer convenient after we moved from the North Shore.

                I love the PYO stuff at Drumlin (where we spend a lot of time in any case between camp, visits, and the fact that it is half way between our house and my parents) but the "farm stand" produce always seems wilted and sad. The freezer case of meat is almost never re-stocked, but I did get the single best lamb chop I have ever had from them when I caught the freezer on a lucky day. They do have plenty of fields and a commitment to diverse agriculture, so I imagine the CSA is pretty good, but it is certainly not on my list of possibles due to convenience.

                Good luck

                2 Replies
                1. re: tdaaa

                  About Houde- the pork comes in cycles (according to butchering). Some months there's been barely any pork, so I try to ration those lovely pork chops so I have some on hand for the non porky months.

                  1. re: Chris VR

                    I figured that was the case - but couldn't ration it becasue it was way too good.

                2. I am a new member of Waltham Farms. Has anyone experienced any bug related problems with CSAs? I know they don't use chemicals, but are they able to adequately protect the crops?

                  14 Replies
                  1. re: The_Bayou

                    What exatly do you mean by "bug related problems"? If you mean crops wiped out by bugs, no, although there have been years when torrential summer rains have meant that there were no strawberries, or some such. However, if you mean have I gotten produce with wee holes here and there sometimes, then yes. Specifically, for some reason Stillman's arugula is almost always nibbled on, and since I tend to be rather casual in my selection of corn, I have often had to trim the top inch off of the ears to get rid of bad bits.

                    I tend to chalk it up to the whole "circle of life" thing, but YMMV.

                    1. re: The_Bayou

                      No chemicals generally means no artificial chemicals... there are a bewildering array of "natural" products that can be used by organic farmers to destroy or deter bugs. There is some debate regarding the healthfullness of organic produce (eg. http://www.slate.com/id/2198756/ regarding heavy metals in organic soil) just as there is debate about the carbon footprint of local agriculture vs. mass agriculture. I doubt that anyone would argue that local tastes better, and most would agree that organic veggies and fruits are not nearly as beautiful as conventionally grown items, but generally taste better.

                      1. re: The_Bayou

                        This will be my fifth year with the Waltham Fields CSA - In terms of bugs at this particular CSA, there have been years where certain select crops were negatively affected by infestations and if memory serves me correctly, they used a number of "natural" means to depopulate the buggers, with some success and some failure. Regardless, the diversity of crops each year pretty much guarantees good yield from the overall farm, although you may lose on some particular crops from time to time. Let me put it this way - I do not recall any particular blight, if that's telling.

                        You should feel free to discuss with other members, staff and the farm manager Amanda in particular.

                        Like Allstonian suggests, you will certainly get your share of nibbled-on items - some bugger is perenially fond of baby bok choy - but the produce is not crawling with them. And you cannot taste the holes.

                        I did pick, bring home and replant some basil one year and succeeded in growing a nice fat green caterpillar who was released to the wild for cleverly avoiding my gaze for weeks while I wondered about my anemic looking herbs. And deep down in the cabbages and lettuces, you will occasionally find a critter - just sort of goes with the territory.

                        Sort of the same idea is how "dirty" the heads of lettuce can be - in that, fresh-picked lettuce collects a fair amount of dirt and you have to wash the leaves well, especially near the base, naturally. After years of supermarket lettuce, who knew!?

                        All part of the experience. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I have.

                        1. re: Bob Dobalina

                          Organic brussels sprouts are really tough-
                          if you can find organic ones that aren't "protein enhanced" (if you know what I mean), you've found a great source!

                          1. re: cpingenot

                            Not sure what you mean, but the last two seasons, on two weeks in the fall, we got a stalk or two of brussels sprouts, which were outstanding.

                            1. re: Bob Dobalina

                              Sorry to be obtuse,
                              A lot of organic brussels sprouts have aphids or other critters in between each leaf, so cleaning them becomes a matter of turning sprouts into slaw, or just trying not to think about the extra protein. I got excellent ones with very few bugs from Red Fire.

                              1. re: cpingenot

                                Ah. Got ya now.
                                Our sprouts, if we did not eat them right away, tended to have little black bits underneath the leaves. That must have been the buggers?

                          2. re: Bob Dobalina

                            Agreed about Waltham Fields. Nothing you get is covered in bugs, and the tiny holes aren't a big deal. Same thing you'd get in your own garden, I suspect.

                            Do talk to Amanda, though- she's wonderful and very knowledgeable.

                            We've been members for 5 years, and this year we had to forgo the share (we did renew our regular $25 membership) because we might be moving (law school thing). I am so sad about this!

                            1. re: sfumato

                              One note - Waltham Fields is already sold out save for a couple of shares they hold back for the spring silent auction fundraiser.

                              1. re: Bob Dobalina

                                Yikes, I forgot to mention that. Yes, you are correct! They sell out super fast.

                          3. re: The_Bayou

                            My CSA (Farm Direct Coop) switched farmers this year. The new farmer (Picadilly Farm) provided arugula that was very holey from bug nibbles. I was initially put off by it but it tasted as good as... actually, better than! the argula we'd had from our previous farmer. I agree with Bob Dobalina- your lettuce will probably seem filthy to you, compared to more commercial lettuces. Just rinse it well and enjoy!

                            1. re: Chris VR

                              How was Picadilly? We are thinking about them for this summer.

                              1. re: tdaaa

                                Oh I really liked what we got from Picadilly. Great produce, nice variety and good people too, from what I understand. if they offer a direct CSA, and you can sign up, I'd go for it.

                                1. re: Chris VR

                                  They apparently do deliveries to pickup locations in Belmont, Bedford and Arlington, which would be ideal for me. Once I get approval from the Boss, I will probably sign up. Thanks for the response.
                                  website link: http://www.picadillyfarm.com/eastern.php

                          4. Have done both Stillmans and Red Fire Farm. Am going with Red Fire Farm this year, thought it had a better variety of unusual things (garlic scapes!) and overall more volume.
                            At Stillman's I felt a bit like I'd get not quite enough of too many things. (would have preferred more volume of fewer things). I can stuff, and it was hard to get additional quantities from Stillmans. Stillman's does include fruit in the base price which was nice. did Red Fire's fruit share two years ago and decided not to do that this time- it was a LOT of apples. Decided I'd get my fruit from the farmer's market and be more selective with it.

                            1. Since I live in Quincy, it seems I have little choice but to renew with Stillman's, if I want to do a CSA.

                              Having said that, I don't have any major complaints about Stillmans. It was our first time doing a CSA last year, and I like the idea of helping the family farm and all. It just seemed as if, sometimes, my box was filled with eggplants and tomatoes, while they had a nice supply of other items on sale for the non-CSA.

                              Anyone know why all the CSA farms seem to only have dropoffs in Cambridge/Arlington/Belmont?

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: mwk

                                My guess wold be twofold: I'd guess there are more small farms north of the city than there are south of the city.

                                I't probably also based on history- Cambridge has traditionally been crunchy granola CSA types, so it's a good place to get a CSA going. You might have some luck approaching a farmer and offering to try to pull together a critical mass of people that would make it worthwhile for him/her to make a trip to your town.

                                1. re: mwk

                                  Keep in mind that what looks like a nice supply of some item being sold at the farm stand may not be enough to go around to fill 100 shares. What goes into one CSA box has to go into all of them excepth when they're offering the pick-one choice of a bunch of kale OR a bunch of beets OR a bag of spinach, for example. The other exception is that if you get a large share you often get things that folks don't get in the small share. However, overall they do try to keep things fairly uniform.

                                  Not to mention that some folks wait all season for the box filled with tomatoes and eggplants. But I do know what you mean - when I was a member in JP I used to look yearningly at some of the things that were on offer at the sales stand that hadn't turned up in our box, especially when the stand was so busy that I just didn't want to wait in that long, long to pay. But taking a few shifts helping out with the CSA box distribution really gives you a quick education in the other side of the equation!

                                2. Has anyone tried Siena Farms CSA? Their pick up at Sofra would be convenient for me.

                                  1. Hi All-

                                    We had two farm shares last year (long story). One was Farm Direct, the other, Stillmans. Without a doubt, Farm Direct put Stillman's to shame.

                                    I am a huge proponent of CSAs, I think that we got great produce, but more importantly, supported local growers and their families. That being said, I have to admit I was very disappointed with Stillmans. There was not much variety, and for our money, it didn't feel like a great investment. Farm Direct on the other hand was AMAZING. We'd use them again except their pick up is too far.

                                    This year we're between Red Fire and Brookfield- we'd love thoughts on either of them! Especially Brookfield since we haven't seen much in the way of reviews.

                                    Thanks

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: hannah karpman

                                      The thing to keep in mind about Farm Direrct Coop is they buy from a variety of growers, so it's a lot easier for them to ensure a consistent and high quality delivery of produce. If you go with a single farmer, like Stillman or most CSAs, you're more of a partner with them- if the season goes badly, there's not much they can do to make it up to you, but if the season goes well, you'll really reap the rewards (pun intended). While I really love Farm Direct Co-op (going on my 6th year of membership), we do miss out on the direct connection to the farmer and the land that direct CSA members enjoy.

                                      1. re: hannah karpman

                                        I checked their site, which says they have a waiting list, the sign-up link for which did not work. It also said they were looking for ways to accommodate more members.

                                        1. re: greygarious

                                          I did manage to get on the FarmDirect waitlist, and received an e-mail saying they were hopeful that expansion plans will work out, but it's not yet cinched.

                                        2. re: hannah karpman

                                          I've had a Red Fire share for a few years in a row and am really happy with it. They're also fabulously accessible and interested and excited about what they do. I wish the farm was closer for doing PYO stuff though.

                                        3. We were ver happy with our share from Brookfield Farms last year and have reupped for 2009. The variety is great in season, and the share more than enough for two people.

                                          As far as bugs are concerned, I would expect that one should expect a few "issues" with any CSA (e.g. a head of lettuce/greens or two with holes in the leaves over the course of a season). There may even be items you get much less of from year to the next because of a pest problem (of course the weather is probably a much bigger factor). However I have never picked up a box that is crawling with critters or anything like that. it is something you get used to very quickly and ultimately see as a good thing.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: Gabatta

                                            Thanks Gabatta! We just sent in our form.

                                            I agree about the advantage of Farm Direct, but I have to say that the quality/quantity AND selection with Stillman's was lacking. I have heard from friends that other pickup sites were better. Ours was in Brookline.

                                          2. As a note, especially for those who live in Brookline, JP and areas about there, Allandale Farm is starting a CSA. Full share is $600, half is $350. Info on their website.

                                            1. In looking at the FarmDirect website I see that the annual membership is $50, but the costs of shares isn't given. Does anyone know what the single share veg, fruit, and herb cost?

                                              4 Replies
                                              1. re: greygarious

                                                I guess they're not listing the rates because they are still setting them, but last year I had a single vegetable, single fruit and a cheese share and I paid $500. The herb share is pretty inexpensive, IIRC. I'd say less than $50 but not positive.

                                                1. re: Chris VR

                                                  Thanks Chris.....at that total, I'm rethinking this. Got an e-mail that they are expanding to add a second day, accommodating 175 more people, and was set to send in the $100 deposit, but maybe not. I'm mostly a cheddar and swiss person so I would pass on the cheese. Then thought about my horror of cilantro, fennel, and all things licorice-like in flavor.....wondering if I would wind up with food I won't eat. I like famers markets for the colorful varieties of produce since eye appeal is important to me. I'd rather have a smaller, more varied amount than a large quantity of one or two items.

                                                  1. re: greygarious

                                                    We don't tend to get large amounts. For example, a week's vegetable "take" might look something like this:

                                                    Your choice of 3 (1 pound or 1 bunch): kale, cabbage, bok choy, chard, beets, turnips, kohlrabi
                                                    "Required" take of some items, amounts depend on crop cost. For example, carrots, potatoes, squash

                                                    If there's an item you absolutely won't eat, and it's in the "choice" group, you can just avoid it. If it's in the "required" take, you can ask the depot coordinator if you can swap for another item. They can't always do it, but when they can, they will. If they can't, you can either take it and give to a neighbor, or leave it and it'll go to the food pantry at the end of the day.

                                                    The FAQ page at http://www.farmdirectcoop.org/frequen... gives some numbers but it's outdated:

                                                    How many vegetables will I get?

                                                    Based on a 19 week season, a singles' vegetable share will average $9.50 per week, a family vegetable share $15.75, singles' fruit $6.85 and family fruit $10.00. The extended season includes two extra deliveries of hearty vegetables (potatoes, carrots, winter squash, etc.) in November, each worth $32.50.

                                                    For example,how much do the veggies cost individually?

                                                    Even though you pay for your share ahead of time, we buy from our growers based on these expected 2007 prices:

                                                    * Greens (spinach/lettuce/collard/basil) - $1.88 ea.
                                                    * Tomatoes - $2.00 to $3.50/lb.
                                                    * Zucchini & Eggplant - $1.50/lb
                                                    * Apples - $1.10/lb

                                                    I hope this helps you make your decision! It's definitely not for everyone. And I do miss farmer's markets shopping. That's one reason why I keep a single share, so I don't get overwhelmed with produce and can still pick up stuff when I see something neat at the market.

                                                    1. re: Chris VR

                                                      I just got info on the Tuesday delivery they are trying to add in order to meet the demand. The farmer won't be Picadilly though, not sure who will be providing the produce. The postcard I got said that they are taking deposits now through March 15. Another member told me they are already halfway filled for Melrose.

                                              2. We had a great experience during the first year of the CSA at the Dover Farm in Dover (right over the Natick border). We had a range of wonderful veggies (from swiss chard to kale to cauliflower), as well as some chances to pick raspberries and flowers. (I wrote a number of blog and Chowhound posts about it last year.) However, I haven't heard from the owner or gotten any sense that it would be available this year. I would be curious if anyone knows if he is actually opening this year and/or thoughts on the Weston CSA.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: foodymom

                                                  Not sure, but you might also consider the Vanguarden CSA, also in Dover-Sherborn.
                                                  www.vanguarden.com

                                                2. Red Fire now offers tricycle delivery of your share each week- I just signed up because I have never been able to make it to a pick up spot and dont have a car so this is perfect. I think it is 9 bucks extra per week. What a great idea. I am looking forward to the first delivery.

                                                  1. Farm share season has begun! (As of yesterday, for me.) I got a lot from Red Fire for the first week, it seemed—two heads of lettuce, kale, broccoli, turnips, beets, 2/3 lb. spinach, mesclun, green garlic, cilantro. Ate a huge salad with roasted beets and promptly conked out on the couch.

                                                    4 Replies
                                                    1. re: djd

                                                      nice, i should be getting mine this afternoon. will report back

                                                      1. re: djd

                                                        Yesterday I received 3 heads of beautiful lettuce, beets, garlic scapes, scallions, swiss chard and radishes from Sienna. This is my first CSA and only the second week. Last week we received mesclan, 2 bags of spinach, hakuri turnips, 3 baby bok choy, radishes and green garlic. Is this enough for a $750 share?

                                                        1. re: veggielover

                                                          You can't really judge whether you're getting your money's worth based on a few weeks. Especially this time of year, when crops are just starting to come in. Give it some time, and if you feel you're not getting your money's worth, call the co-op manager, who should be able to address your concerns. I don't know anything about Sienna in particular, just my experience from 6 years of being in a CSA (Farm Direct Co-op).

                                                          1. re: veggielover

                                                            Second ChrisVR - you will need to evaluate at the end of the year. But the responsible CSA should be able to produce a sort of balance sheet with the farm's output and approximate retail prices to give you an idea of whether you indeed got your money's worth by the end of the year. If they do not, I would question whether they are following best practices. As CSAs become more mainstream, they should be held to the requisite level of fiscal responsibility. Which is not to say that you will always get your money's worth. The CSA model means that you bear some risk for potential crop failure, bug infestation, drought which may mean you do not break even each year. If that's the case, the CSA manager again should be forthright about what caused production to be less than optimal and should be able to outline steps to prevent it in the future (to the extent that it is not an act of God). My amateur observations is that this year looks like we are in for a lot of veggies, with the good snowfall and relatively steady and long-seeming spring. But this is New England after all, so you never know.

                                                        2. I got my first Red Fire CSA share- the strawberries were to die for. wonderful greens- mesclun, red leaf lettuce, kale. yellow and red beets and beautiful garlic scapes and spinach