Pick a CSA, Any CSA

It’s that time of year when a young man’s thoughts turn to picking out a Community Supported Agriculture program. Like many cvillenews.com readers, I’ve gone with Horse and Buggy Produce (not a true CSA, but more of a local farming aggregator for farmers who don’t want to run their own CSA) for the past couple of years, and ought to get off my duff and sign up again. And many friends speak highly of Best of What’s Around. For a review of all of the options, Cathy Clary provides a listing of seven area farms and explains the concept in the current C-Ville Weekly, while Erika Howsare airs some sour grapes about Horse and Buggy from local farmers.

The schtick, for those who aren’t familiar, is that you pay a big chunk of change up front — $150-$675 — to a local farmer to pick up a big box of fruits, vegetables, flowers, grains and herbs every week. They’re often (but not necessarily) organic, and “local” might mean grown right in Albemarle or from as far afield as the valley. Some CSAs require that you pitch in a few hours to help work on the farm. And some will let you pay extra for a weekly bonus supply of beef, chicken, unpasteurized milk or flowers. (I did the chicken and milk last year, and now I’m totally ruined.)

Now’s your chance to convince people to discover that Mexican stuff they’re buying at Food Lion is crap. Does anybody want to offer any specific recommendations for a CSA?

21 Responses to “Pick a CSA, Any CSA”


  • I did Best of What’s Around for two years straight. First year was great; last year was frustrating. Partly the dry growing season limited supply of some of the good stuff we had been looking forward to in the shares. But mostly it was the new CSA management that drove me batty. Communication was terrible at best, and they just couldn’t seem to get some basic admin stuff straight about my membership. The final aggravation was that they started sending their weekly info about the shares in a PDF attachment — requiring loading time to open a dang PDF every week just to read about your vegetables. The previous year subscription sported a text-only weekly email, which was infinitely preferable. I know this sounds like a totally minor complaint, but the PDF was completely unnecessary and became a weekly annoyance for me, compounded by my other frustrations.

    This year I’m trying Ploughshare (uses organic methods but has not gone through the expensive certification process like BoWA), which is located near me and also offers the convenience of pickup at either of the two city markets. I like that b/c then subscribers then have the instant opportunity to buy any supplemental veggies they’d like without travelling anywhere. Maybe BoWA offers that option this year; they didn’t in years past.

  • My wife and I went with Roundabout Farm last year and were really happy. We picked up our produce weekly in Belmont and there was always plenty to eat. Weekly newletters told us what to expect each week along with recipes using the included produce.

    We didn’t do the flower CSA but they were beautiful!

  • My friends use The Green Grocer but have recently complained about poor business management and the price has been jacked up considerably from last year. I don’t think they’re willing to walk away just yet though.

  • Ditto fdr on BoWA — my experience last year (first time doing a CSA) was similar in that the produce was fine, but the admin/communications piece seemed a little messed up. I would probably try a different one this year, if I do one at all (gotta find someone to split a half-share with me).

  • I dropped out of Horse & Buggy about halfway through the season last year because the produce turned out not to be as local as I was expecting. The very first week, in May, we were given tomatoes that were packed in boxes that said, “Grown in Georgia”! I did like the quality of much of what they offered, though. I still think about the Ranier cherries we got one week.

  • Cecil, so glad to hear it wasn’t just me! Hopefully BoWA has gotten the kinks worked out for this year, but last year was definitely less than ideal. I hope you give the CSA thing another shot and have a better experience the next go round.

  • Cecil,
    Horse & Buggy does a Singles share – it’s the same size as the Couples share but you get it every other week. Hope this helps.

  • I’m torn…H&B isn’t “truly” local but if they offer a singles share, that might suit us, the family that was overwhelmed by even a half-share last summer…what to do.

    FDR, I thought the BoWA people were nice about messing up communications even though they messed up communications. I wouldn’t discourage anyone from using them. I just need fewer vegetables!

  • If you want to discourage people from using local vendors for their “fresh vegetables” all you have to do is read the nightmare blogs above and you will be discouraged. I’ve said all along their is nothing grown local that will supply a family or multiple familes and nobody will define local. If I were in the produce business and trying to supply a local market you can bet that with all the work involved that you would not be getting tomatoes and corn for the cheap prices you are getting them. Tomatoes would be at least $5 per pound and corn would be $3 an ear and based on what is involved in growing and distribution that is probably not a break even point. Thank god for local grocery stores where quality and quantity are good and the prices are at least affordable. You people keep complaining about “local vegetable” growers and that will really encourage others to buy local.

  • all you have to do is read the nightmare blogs above and you will be discouraged.

    Where did anyone share experiences that come close to a nightmare? The comments aren’t discouraging at all and the fact that CSAs have become much more common shows that people are very interested in joining one. Reading about the “single share” above makes me even more enthusiastic! I was always afraid of getting too much produce/herbs to use!

    Thank god for local grocery stores where quality and quantity are good and the prices are at least affordable.

    Yes, let’s be thankful for spinach recalls, moldy strawberries hidden underneath good ones, and fruit spending days getting trucked here from another region. This is just a guess, but you might perceive produce to be cheaper at the supermarket because of sales, but I bet that averaging out the cost over an extended period would make that perception go away. For every week that a green pepper is on sale for 99 cents, it seems like it costs $3 for a month.

    I’m not saying I haven’t bought produce at the supermarket, but there’s no way I “thank God” for it. I’m more thankful for Cville Market and the return of the City Market!

  • I say we boycott Jogger’s comments.

  • The guy’s a troll. There’s no way he believes 90% of what he says. I don’t bother responding anymore.

  • I guess I haven’t been reading the comments enough lately to know. Oops.

  • Jeannine there is nothing local about the Cville Market, everything is trucked in from Texas, Florida and then right on up the east coast as the seasons come in.
    Still no one has defined “local” as applied to local fruits and vegetables….
    Waldo, my best advice to you is get a grip and get over it. Whatever “It” is you’ve got. Happy Trails..

  • See, now that’s a prime example. Either you’re lying about your knowledge about C’ville Market (since they sell local eggs, beef, and chicken, year-round, and local produce seasonally) or you’re making inflammatory claims for the fun of it.

    Either you’re a liar or an ass; there is no possible kind interpretation.

  • Waldo, you need to give your head a good shake, secondly stay on topic, please. I’m, we’re, talking fruits and vegetables, and I repeat there is very precious little of this grown locally in large enough quantities to supply the wants and needs the local population. If there were local suppliers tomatoes would be $5 a pound and corn would be $6 or $7 per ear. These prices would be necessary to cover costs and have very little profit if any left over.

  • True, there probably isn’t enough locally grown produce to feed the entire population of this area, but maybe that’s because the large grocery stores make little or no effort to buy from local farmers, who are only going to produce as much as they know they can sell. If Harris-Teeter or Food Lion announced they were going to start buying their produce locally, local farmers would produce more and there could be nearly enough for all, or at least nearly enough of what’s in season.

    Giant sometimes advertises some produce as “local” but is vague about where, exactly the produce came from.

  • I’m, we’re, talking fruits and vegetables, and I repeat there is very precious little of this grown locally in large enough quantities to supply the wants and needs the local population.

    No, that’s not what you said. You wrote:

    there is nothing local about the Cville Market, everything is trucked in from Texas, Florida and then right on up the east coast as the seasons come in.

    And I call bullshit, because of course they supply those things. So now you change your story: it’s not that they don’t have it, you say, it’s that they don’t have enough to feed every man, woman and child in Central Virginia. So what? Who said anything about feeding everybody? We produce enough food here to satisfy an enormous chunk of the demand.

    If there were local suppliers tomatoes would be $5 a pound and corn would be $6 or $7 per ear. These prices would be necessary to cover costs and have very little profit if any left over.

    Again, I call bullshit. You give specific numbers, but you’re just inventing them. Seriously, show your math — why $5? Why not $4? Or $2? Or $50?

  • Patience you have hit my point exactly…advertised as local without saying where the “fresh” vegetables come from.
    Fresh vegetables are only in season for a couple of weeks and then the local growing season is over. Local grocery stores don’t buy or commit to local because there is not enough supply and enough supply consistently over time. The grocery stores have to go where they can get quality and quanity without relying on someone who might or might not produce this year. To supply local requires a tremendous amount of land and land around here is too expensive to farm with such a small margin of return on your investment. If any return at all in some years.
    Waldo, I can live with $50 if you want to buy some of my tomatoes and corn. In the meantime keep giving your head a good shake.

  • In reference to the C-Ville article(s), Horse and Buggy has posted some clarifications about what they offer (link below). We just signed up with them for the first time this year (a few days before the C-Ville article) and are looking forward to it.

    http://tinyurl.com/3rgjeh

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