Share and share alike

Feeding our families the CSA way

CSA vegetable share

“I feel like I’m giving my kids an advantage, not only in serving them organic food, but that they will know that food doesn't come from a grocery store.” — Kelly Oggenfuss, Highland

Huguenot Street Farm in New Paltz offers unlimited “U-Pick” to their shareholders, and their vegetable season lasts for 22 weeks.

A $500 or higher grocery bill might make most budget-conscious shoppers feel faint. Paying that amount up front, sometimes months before seeing a single item of food, may in fact seem downright horrific.

However, for a growing number of Hudson Valley families, this is actually an ideal way to procure the freshest foods grown by local farmers, and to ensure a farm-to-table experience for an entire season.

These are the families who purchase community supported agriculture shares directly from farms.

It works like this: farmers sell a predetermined number of shares before the growing season begins. Each week of the growing season, those who purchased a share receive a portion of what was grown on the farm. This amounts to several pounds of fresh, local produce guaranteed each week.

READ MORE: Looking for a CSA near you?

Good for farmers
Selling produce this way is beneficial to the farmers, since they are paid up front and do not have to worry that an unexpected storm or unusual weather pattern may decimate their finances for that season. It also allows them to take some risks and try out new plants. Also, since they do the bulk of their marketing early in the season they have more time to devote to tending their crops.

The benefits to families who join are numerous. The first and most obvious is the local fresh food, guaranteed for approximately 20 weeks, depending on the farm.

Kelly Oggenfuss of Highland has been a member of the Huguenot Street Farm CSA program for 10 years. Her sons, Adrian, 4, and Julian, 1, help her pick the food. “They're excited to sit down at dinner and proudly tell their dad that they helped pick those green beans.”

This freshness guarantee is one of the reasons that Kelly Oggenfuss joined Huguenot Street Farm in 2004. “I love having local and organic produce in season,” says the mother of two from Highland. “It is often more flavorful than grocery store produce. I also love knowing the farmers and what exactly they put on the produce. We get a weekly newsletter about what they're doing, what crops are doing well or poorly, and what techniques they're using to combat pests or disease.”

Good for kids
Diana Hill Brooks of Red Hook has belonged to Hearty Roots Farm for the past four years. She says that eating the fresh food from the CSA share with her family was an invaluable lesson for her children.

“As a result of the abundance of fresh local produce, my children have learned very healthy eating habits and even in college understand the importance of fresh local produce and seek out the farmers markets,” she says.

Oggenfuss, whose children are 4 and 1, agrees.

“I feel like I’m giving my kids an advantage, not only in serving them organic food, but that they will know that food doesn't come from a grocery store,” she says. “It comes from a farm. They pick and eat their own fruits and veggies right in the field. They're excited to sit down at dinner and proudly tell their dad that they helped pick those green beans.”

Because members never know from week to week which vegetables they will get and in what quantity, they get to expand their palates and culinary skills.

“I learned to pickle, make jelly, and freeze veggies so we've been using the share still in the winter,” says Briana Maloney, who joined Kelder’s Farm in Kerhonkson last year. Maloney, also of Kerhonksen, says her 3-year-old has developed a taste for kale chips because of the quantity of kale her family received as part of their share.

Brooks, too, says her family has been exposed to new vegetable choices. “I have learned to can and preserve the produce so that we can enjoy it all year.”

Good for community
Joining a CSA is also a chance to expand your community and get to know your farmers. Oggenfuss says that the sense of community is one of the reasons that she has been returning to her CSA for 10 years. “I love exchanging recipes in the pickup line, the end-of-the-year potluck, and letting the kids play at the farm.”

A CSA box from Kelder’s Farm in Kerhonkson. Kelder’s Farm offers special incentives for families, including a free season’s pass to their jumping pillow for shareholders. 

Lastly, for those parents who struggle with getting a wiggly toddler into a shopping cart while avoiding a meltdown in every aisle, CSA members say the scheduled pickups are often enjoyable for children. Some farms that offer CSA shares even offer special incentives for kids. Kelder’s Farm includes a free pass for their jumping pillow with the cost of the share. “It became my Tuesday afternoon ritual with my toddler to go to spend time on the jumping pillow, feed the animals, and pick up our share,” says Maloney.

Splitting shares
Though there are many benefits, those who purchase shares do acknowledge that there are some drawbacks. First, since you don’t get to choose the vegetables that were grown, members sometimes receive an abundance of vegetables that they don’t enjoy. Here are some tips for making CSA shares last longer.

“I often give some away, but when I don't, I feel wasteful composting it,” says Oggenfuss, whose family doesn’t particularly like greens or beets. She also points out that the food often does not have the shelf live of grocery food. “Farm lettuce starts to spoil after four days in the fridge, while grocery store lettuce can last up to two weeks.”

There is also that high upfront price tag. For those who blanch at the idea, there are options. First, many CSAs offer half shares, which allow you to pay half the cost of a full share and receive half of the food. This is an ideal option for smaller families. Even if the CSA that you choose doesn’t offer a half share, you can work with another family to split the cost between you.

If the cost is still prohibitive, Jacob Diaz, who owns Slow Roots Farm in Kingston, suggests talking to the farmers, who may be willing to barter or may have some discounted shares available.

Dawn Green is a freelance writer and mom to two boys in Saugerties.