Is there anything better on a hot summer afternoon than biting into a fresh tomato right off the vine or enjoying a bowl of fresh strawberries and cream.
Sustainable and organic food is not only healthy for us, but also good for the environment and climate. For a few lucky ones, a spot in one of the Hill’s coveted community gardens may have finally opened, and you are now able to plant and harvest your own radishes, cucumbers, and tomatoes. For others, the farmer’s markets at Eastern Market, RFK parking lots, or H Street provide a great way to grab fresh produce, but it is one step removed from the actual farm experience and often only available on the weekends.
Community-supported agriculture, commonly known as CSAs, are a way to be a part of the local farming movement. The CSA system connects the producer, farmer, and consumers within a defined local area. The CSA model began in the 1970’s first in Japan, spreading to Switzerland later that decade. Today, there are more than 2,500 in the United States, and we are very lucky to have some really dynamite CSAs to choose from on Capitol Hill. Some have been bringing vegetables to the Hill for over a decade or more.
June is a great time to sign up for a summer season of vegetables. Like the vendors at the farmer’s markets, CSAs bring you the vegetables that are currently growing and
being harvested. You get what is in season that week. For example, you will not receive watermelons in June, but rather in August when they have had all summer to grow in full sunny conditions. Watermelons at the markets before August are usually shipped in from other parts of the country.
In the sustainable agriculture world, there has been a long debate and effort to determine how to certify organic food. To be certified USDA organic, a farmer must apply, pay a fee, and follow a rigorous process that often just doesn’t work for the small farmer. An independent certification process (just as good) has been adopted by most CSA small farm operations, called “Naturally Grown Certified.” It means the vegetable or fruit is free of synthetic or artificial ingredients and is grown following the USDA standards minus a lot of the paperwork.
How does it work?
Each CSA operates a little differently, but the general concept is you sign up for a share of the harvest from the farms’ summer vegetable crops. Each week, or every other week, the farmer brings to Capitol Hill what is ripe and delicious. Sometimes there is a designated pick-up location and window of time. You go and retrieve your bag of vegetables. Other ways to participate involve having the weekly share delivered to your house or apartment. Farmers are trying to decide how to operate under Covid rules, but in the past, there has been a chance to trade vegetables at pickup if there is something you know you won’t eat. For many CSA’s families, it is a chance to try different kinds of vegetables that they might pass over in the grocery store.
The shares vary widely in price and in the number of weeks of the season. It is possible to buy half shares, but farmers really encourage finding friends or family to join and buy one complete share.
In the case of Little Wild Things Farm that offers weekly deliveries of locally grown microgreens, salad blends, and edible flowers, the shares are delivered in plastic reusable containers that are recycled every week.
H Street Farm offers a CSA workshare: in exchange for volunteering four hours a week volunteers receive a heavily reduced price of $10 a week for their CSA share. CSA director, Rachael Smith, says all the work share spots for 2021 are full, but you can get on the waiting list for an opening. The One Acre Farm CSA offers 12 weeks summer shares, and a 10-week summer-fall share, so you can get a 22 week share that provides a little savings for the package.
Mike Protas of One Acre Farm says that the price of vegetables are a few cents higher than you find at your local grocery store, but the quality and the added benefit of contributing to the sustainable environment more than pays forward the cost.
One Acre Farm
One Acre Farm’s roots begin on Capitol Hill, and a decade later Mike Proust is proud to be delivering his farm goods to 11th Street and other locations around the city. The farm has grown from one acre to 34 acres, and a network of farmers in the Dickerson and Poolesville area also contribute to the effort.
Mike and Charlotte Henderson, the farm’s Membership Coordinator, manage 200 CSA shares a year, with approximately 35% of the shares on Capitol Hill. Charlotte says One Acre Farm and many other CSA farms are an essential part of the local economy. They provide a fair wage to their workers and are part of the path toward sustainable living. She really encourages Hill residents to connect to this sustainable movement in eating and improving the environment.
A bonus of One Acre Farm is the opportunity to go on a guided tour, get a chance to meet Farmer Mike, and see how the vegetables you will be eating all summer really grow. www.oneacrefarm.com
Little Wild Things Farm
At 906 Bladensburg Road, NE, a few doors down from W.S. Jenks Hardware and the H Street Farm headquarters, is a lavender door leading up a set of stairs to the most amazing CSA type farm operation, Little Wild Things Farm.
Hailey Rohm, Director of Operations, says the six-year-old CSA prepares 200 salad shares a week of locally grown microgreens, salad blends and edible flowers. This farm operates all four seasons and a share costs $275 for ten weeks. The Farm will do home delivery, or you can pick up at the shop, where you can be engulfed in 52 stacks of greens growing under multi-color lights, and some hydroponic flowers. The CSA sends salad shares home in reusable plastic containers ready to go into your fridge. If you love salad, this may be the CSA for you. www.littlewildthingsfarm.com
Cultivate the City
Cultivate the City, also known as H Street Farms, is yet another very local CSA to check out and participate in. On the rooftop of W.S. Jenks Hardware on Bladensburg Road, NE, the space is full of green vegetation, and even some chickens.
Rachael Smith coordinates efforts for this CSA and says she is thrilled to be a part of this growing movement. She says they get their produce from participating with a number of community gardens, and a network of common market East Coast farmers who contribute about half of their produce. Each CSA share provides vegetables and fruits, plus one herb, and one finished food product, often hot sauce and salsa that they make.
Like other CSAs, shares can be picked up at the headquarters or delivered. Part of the CSA share helps build nutrition programming and support for garden activities for youth and young adults throughout the DMV area.
June is the perfect time to jump on board with a CSA that fits your lifestyle. Not only will you be eating healthy delicious food; you will be helping our environment by encouraging sustainable farming. www.cultivatethecity.com
Rindy O’Brien finds the CSAs an excellent way to doing something positive for our environment and hopes many will join in. Contact her at: [email protected]