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Farm to Table at Your Own Home – Join a CSA!

By Sarah McGowan

As the sun stays with us a little longer and days are warmer, many of us can’t help but think of summer cookouts and the good food that accompanies them.  One way to take full advantage of those perfectly sun-ripened tomatoes, sweet corn and crisp greens is to join a CSA (community supported agriculture).

A CSA provides “city-folk” with direct access to food produced by local farmers.  Basically, CSA shareholders pay for a “share” of vegetables for a set number of months (usually by season).  This cost allows the farmer to plan for the season, repair equipment, purchase seed, etc.  In exchange, each week shareholders receive a box of locally farmed, seasonal vegetables. Many CSAs also offer options to purchase locally produced meat, cheese, eggs, flowers, breads, and other goodies!

Each CSA is a little different, but there is usually a “host site” (this can be an individual’s home, a school, farmer’s market, etc.).  This is where the vegetable boxes are dropped off by a CSA representative and picked up by CSA participants. Your CSA will work with you to find a host site that is closest to your home to facilitate pick-up.  Alternatively, many farms offer CSA share pick-up at the farm itself.

Most CSAs also have different sized “shares” – full, half and even quarter shares – depending on how many individuals you are feeding and your budget.  Another option is to split the share with another individual or family if smaller shares are not an option.

Why would I participate in a CSA when I can just go to the grocery store?

The produce is fresh. The typical American meal travels 1,500 miles before it is consumed. That lettuce you just purchased was picked and stored up to 4 weeks ago. And how about that tomato? In the U.S., tomatoes can be picked and stored for up to 6 weeks. In order to transport our produce long distances, it is often picked while still unripe and then gassed to “ripen” it after transport. Am I making you hungry? Conversely, the vegetables you are getting through your CSA have been picked the week you receive your box. Yum!

CSAs are more sustainable.
Remember that 1,500-mile road trip your veggies took to get to your plate? That trip contributes to your food’s carbon footprint.  Vegetables from your CSA box generally come from farms within 100 miles of its drop-off point.  Additionally, CSA vegetables are seasonal, meaning that you are not going to get a tomato in January.  Vegetable production accounts for a large percentage of a vegetable’s carbon footprint – think of the energy needed to heat and light a tomato hothouse.  By eating local and seasonal, you are cutting down on both transport and production emissions. Bonus: Your support also helps to keep the farmer’s small business sustainable!

It expands your palette. Garlicky scapes, Jerusalem artichokes, and stinging nettles – oh my!  While CSA boxes include common seasonal vegetables – tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, etc., if you are lucky, you will get a few surprises. Initially, it may feel a little bit like playing Iron Chef each week, but most CSAs give you a list of what to expect in your box a few days before pick-up, which helps with planning – some CSAs even provide recipe ideas! As five-year CSA veteran (with kids), I have found that it has really pushed my family to incorporate vegetables into our meals that I would never have considered – with (mostly) very
positive results. 

It’s an opportunity to meet new people. Since most CSAs have a central pick-up point, it is not uncommon to meet participating neighbors at these pick-up points.  The question, “What do you usually do with all of these turnips?” is an easy conversation starter and you may find that you have a lot more in common than a turnip problem! Our gracious CSA host has also held potlucks for our CSA group and put those who are interested on a listserv where we can exchange emails regarding vegetable storage, recipes and food swaps.

Are you sold?

Interested in trying a CSA this summer?  Here are a few that cater to those living in Northern Virginia:

Fair Oaks Farm 

Aldie, Va.

Mollie Madison


$495 full share, 16 weeks; or flexible CSABucks program in which members choose produce, meat, eggs, flowers and more for pickup at farm shop

Pickup locations: Alexandria, Arlington, Chantilly, the District

Pickup at the farm: Yes

Great Country Farms

Bluemont, Va.

Mark Dewey


$499-$649 (depending on pickup
or delivery site), 20 weeks; delivery to homes or businesses in
Northern Virginia.

Pickup locations: Aldie, Arlington, Ashburn, Chantilly, Fairfax, Herndon, Lansdowne, Leesburg, Sterling, Vienna

Pickup at the farm: Yes


Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative

Leola, Pa.

CSA department

717-656-3533, ext. 2

$599-$855 vegetable share, 26-week summer season; fall and winter seasons available; chicken, meat, fruit, flower, herb, bread, cheese and egg shares available. Cooperative of about 100 farmers.

Pickup locations: Arlington, Baltimore, Bethesda, Chevy Chase, Columbia, Damascus, the District, Fairfax, Falls Church, Frederick, Gaithersburg, Great Falls, Herndon, Kensington, Leesburg, Montgomery County, Olney,
Potomac, Reisterstown, Rockville, Silver Spring, Springfield, Takoma Park, University Park, Vienna

Pickup at the farm: No

Polyface Farm

Swoope, Va.

Sheri Salatin


Pay-as-you-go buying club for meat (beef, chicken, turkey and pork) and eggs; monthly March through November. Delivery.

Pickup locations: Alexandria, Annapolis, Arlington, Ashburn, Centreville, Fairfax, Falls Church, Kensington, Laurel, Leesburg, Manassas, Occoquan, Potomac, Reston, Silver Spring, Springfield, Takoma Park

Pickup at the farm: Yes


Potomac Vegetable Farm

Vienna, Va., and Purcellville, Va.

Hana Newcomb


Full Share:  Three share sizes: mini ($25/week), regular ($34.50/week), robust ($46/week) 16 week summer share, 8 week autumn share Delivered shares cost $3/week more. 1/2 Share:  mini share is $25 per week, 16 weeks in summer, 8 weeks in fall. Either or both.

Pickup locations: Alexandria, Arlington, Burke, Falls Church, Fairfax, Herndon, Reston, Springfield

Pickup at the farm: Yes


Spring House Farm

Lovettsvile, Va.


$220-$672 for three-month, meat-only shares (bi-weekly delivery).

Pickup locations: Arlington, Ashburn, Centreville, the District, Hamilton, Leesburg, Vienna

Pickup at the farm: Yes


Willowsford Farm

Ashburn, Va.

Michael Snow


$729 large share, $513 small share, 27 weeks; vegetable, egg, prepared food items, flower, chicken, milk and other shares available, as well as weekly pre-orders for all farm stand items. Additional delivery sites may be available.

Pickup locations: Aldie, Ashburn

Pickup at the farm: Yes

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