Waking up this past Thursday morning made me feel like a kid on Christmas morning.
“Why?” you ask?
Because this past Thursday marked the first day of Concord, NC’s own Barbee Farms’ Spring CSA.
What is a CSA?
CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. According to Barbee Farms’ website, a CSA is “a community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation with the growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the risks and benefits of food production”. In essence, a CSA is a way for local farmers to reach local consumers on a weekly (or sometimes biweekly) basis by providing a share of whatever is in season at the time.
I first found out about Barbee Farms’ when Tommy Barbee, a fifth generation farmer, spoke on a student-led panel at the school where I teach. Tommy spoke about aspects of the farm and ways members of our community could get involved, one of those being the CSA program. That night I called my dad, (whom many would describe as a “foodie”), to get the low-down on what this whole CSA thing was about. He explained the idea and cautioned me that no matter what I was given, that’s what I’d have to work with. This was in contrast to what some view as a more traditional way of connecting with local farms: through a local farmers’ market. Instead of checking out a variety of farms and their offerings, planning out meals, and buying my produce accordingly, the CSA would be packed for me each week, and that’s the food I would cook with. I was anxious, but I decided, “what the heck?” So my husband and I went for it.
Thank goodness we did.
That was five years ago, and we have been CSA members at Barbee Farms ever since. We have learned to cook veggies I might never have otherwise noticed, much less purchased (what the heck are swiss chard and bok choi anyway?). And there is nothing I love more than pulling up to the farm stand every Thursday where Dana and Anna Barbee greet me and say with a smile, “Hey, Clay! How are ya?”
How Does it Work?**
Every farm will run its CSA differently, but here’s a glimpse at the logistics at Barbee Farms:
- Members sign up for either a half or a full share. Half shares run $145 for the season, and full shares are $265. My husband and I have always gone with a half share, and on occasion we struggle to finish the full serving in a week.
- A “Season” (Spring/Summer, Summer/Fall, or Fall/Winter) runs 12 weeks. That comes out to a mere $12/week. (Say it with me again, $12/week for our produce.) With Barbee Farms beginning their CSA in mid-April and ending in early December, that’s a whole lot of local goodness coming our way throughout the year. Anna Barbee explained to me recently that their farm opts for a 3-season year to allow people the chance to come and go as they please. (If your family spends every summer on your yacht in the south of France, you may opt out of the Summer/Fall session, but never fear, they’ll be there waiting for you when you return should you decide to rejoin in time for the Fall/Winter season.)
- Once a week, on Wednesdays, I receive an email reminding me that pick-up day is on Thursday. Anna includes a sneak peek of what’s to be included, and occasionally even a family recipe in case members are unsure how to cook a certain item.
- On Thursdays, CSA members stop by the farm to retrieve their goodies. We’re given a Barbee Farms tote at the beginning of the season which we’re encouraged to bring back with us each week to fill.
**The actual logistics of any farm will be specific to that farm. If you’re thinking about joining a farm near you, be sure to read up on how they run things. (Lots of farms in our area offer members drop-off locations around the city to help accommodate for longer travel times around our region.
Why Choose a CSA over a Farmers’ Market?
The cool thing about a CSA is the ways it challenges its members to learn about what’s local and in season throughout the year in our area. It’s not uncommon for me to show up at the farm and receive a bag with at least one item I’ve never cooked. This offers me a unique opportunity to try with something I might not otherwise have ever purchased or even heard of. Additionally, I get to swap recipes with others at the farm stand and connect with people in our area. Finally, from the farmer’s POV, having customers visit the farm directly allows those same customers a chance to see what else is available. This helps boost sales and, if you’re lucky like I was today, as a customer you might just stumble upon the VERY FIRST STRAWBERRIES OF THE SEASON which is the ULTIMATE JACKPOT.
How can YOU get involved?
There are a LOT of farms around Charlotte. Talk to your friends and neighbors to see if there are any CSAs in your area. Visit your local Farmers’ Market (if you’re looking for the Barbees, you can find them on Saturay mornings at the Davidson Farmers Market) and talk to your farmers about whether or not they participate in any CSA programs. One thing to keep in mind when you visit the Farmers’ Market is whether or not it’s a producers-only market. If it is, that means that everyone selling at that market either grows, makes, or bakes what they’re selling. This is IDEAL, and odds are good that farmers at this kind of market offer a variety of ways to buy from their farm, CSAs included. (If you find bananas at your farmers’ market here in the QC, go ahead and assume you’re not at a producers-only market.)
Be sure to do your research. Each of us is different, and it’s important to consider what might work for you and your needs. Think about what’s most important to you in a farm, talk to the farmers who work at the various farms you’re considering working with, and get a feel for who’s doing what feels best for you and your family. Some questions you might want to ask:
“If I can’t make it to the farm on pick-up day, what happens?”
“If I have certain food allergies/dietary needs, can adjustments be made accordingly?”
“Is your farm a “Certified Organic” Farm? Why/why not?” (Barbee Farms is not a certified organic farm, which was something I struggled with at first. Tommy Barbee will be the first to talk about his choice as a farmer to not become certified organic because he didn’t want to spray anything on his crops that he couldn’t spray without risking harm to himself, his farmers or his bees (That’s right, his bees. Think about that one.)
Finally, remember that supporting your local farms can be even more fun when shared with friends. Consider getting together with additional families to split the work of getting to the farm.
(For more information on Barbee Farms’ CSA program or other farm news, please visit their website. And be sure to tell them that Clay sent you!)