Eight great options for local fruits and veggies (and some other special treats, too)
By Ivy Lamb
Do you fantasize about waking up early every Saturday morning to shop for fresh produce, eggs and meat your local farmers market? Yeah, me too. But if you’re like me and can’t find time (or, let’s be real, you just enjoy sleeping in on the weekend), there’s another way to get fresh veggies: Sign up for a CSA.
CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, a model of farming that took root in the U.S. in the ’80s. Here’s how it works: Community members like you and me invest in a local farm by purchasing a CSA share. The farmer gets the money he or she needs to buy seed, farm equipment and more. In return, CSA members get a box of produce every week of the growing season. The goal is to build a more sustainable local food system and help diminish the financial risks of running a small farm.
Picking up a box of veggies every week for 20 to 30 weeks might sound like a big commitment. But I’ve been part of a CSA for years, and it’s more convenient than you might think. These days, most CSA programs have an online interface, multiple pickup locations, small and large share sizes and even the option to pay in installments. Plus, you get the freshest local produce without having to wake up early on the weekend. That’s a win-win in my book.
If you’re considering signing up for a CSA, here are some great options in Central Ohio. This is not an exhaustive list, so dig deeper into these and other CSAs (Local Harvest is one place to continue browsing), and don’t be afraid to ask questions! Another perk of joining a CSA is getting to know the person who grows your food.
Bird’s Haven is a family affair: Tom and Ann Bird started the Granville-area farm more than 20 years ago, and today their son Lee works full time growing produce, while youngest daughter Bryn helps with marketing and operations. They started the CSA program 10 years ago and support 215 to 220 shares each season. Members choose a farmers market pickup location (Granville, Westerville, New Albany or Newark) and have the option to fill their own bag. Bird’s Haven also offers a wide range of add-ons, from fruit and flowers to meat and coffee. The cost of the add-ons goes directly to the partner farms, Bryn says.
The CSA model helped Tim Cook achieve his dream of becoming a farmer. He started New Century in 2004, and it grew steadily for years. But when his shares dropped in 2011, he decided to revamp the entire system. Now, CSA members log in to an online portal and use farm credits to pick out exactly what they want. (Cook builds a default order every week, if you prefer to have produce selected for you.) His Circleville farm supplies 60 to 70 percent of the produce, and the rest comes from other local farms. New Century is also one of the only CSAs in the area to offer home delivery.
How much food can you grow on 2,000 square feet? Quite a lot, as Jodi Kushins has discovered. Kushins says she had “no experience keeping anything alive” when she started a backyard garden at her home in Clintonville, but she was quickly hooked. In 2013, she and her husband bought a neighboring plot and expanded into what Kushins calls a “community kitchen garden.” She requires CSA members to pitch in a few hours of labor on the farm every month, often during weekend “happy hours.” Her CSA is small — it’s already maxed out for the season — but they’re expanding and plan to sell at some local markets for the first time this year.
Growing produce runs in Brian Helser’s family — his grandfather used to grow peas and other crops for Jolly Green Giant during World War II. On his farm in Stoutsville, Hesler grows a wide range of vegetables and cultivates apple and peach trees. CSA members can add fruit for an extra fee, although those shares are more limited. You never know when a late spring freeze might decimate a crop of peaches, Hesler says. No matter what happens, he puts only his own crops in the CSA. Most pickup locations are at farmers markets around Columbus, and if you can organize a group of 10 subscribers or more, they’ll deliver to your neighborhood.
Todd and Heather Schriver grow a range of vegetables at their West Jefferson farm, but they focus on salad crops. If you love greens, this is your CSA. Rock Dove is part of the multi-farm CSA Great River Organics, and they run their own “farm bucks” program that allows members to pick what they want at any Rock Dove farmers market stand. While those options are convenient, Todd and Heather enjoy having CSA members visit the farm itself. That’s why they also offer a traditional CSA for members who want to visit the farm every week to pick some of their own veggies and even volunteer. Not that hardcore? You’re still welcome to visit anytime.
Adam Welly and Jaime Moore started Wayward seed in 2006, and back then it wasn’t much more than a backyard garden. (Just “a row of this and a dozen of that” Moore said.) Starting a CSA helped them grow the farm, and they focus on cultivating a variety of heirloom vegetables. Wayward Seed keeps things simple with one share size, but you can opt for distribution once a week or once every other week. Either way, you can expect a mix of staples (greens, alliums, roots) and seasonal items (peas, corn, tomatoes, winter squash). Wayward Seed also works with partner farms to deliver Ohio-sourced fruit shares to supplement their own produce, and they deliver all over Columbus.
Great River is ideal for those who are intimidated by signing up for a CSA. The brainchild of Welly and Moore, the pair behind Wayward Seed Farm, this CSA operates as farmer-owned cooperative. Multiple local, organic farms have joined forces to stock the Great River Market Bag, allowing each farmer to focus on what they do best without sacrificing variety. You can try it out with a 2-week trial period, and Great River also sends out a weekly email newsletter with recipe suggestions, just in case you’re not sure what to do with that rutabaga you just received.
Benji Ballmer didn’t think about the food system all that much until he had kids. But when he started asking himself what he was feeding his family and where it came from, those questions started him down the path that led him to start Yellowbird Foodshed in 2013. Ballmer saw how hard it was to run a farm, do the marketing and make deliveries. So he decided to create his own sales channel. Ballmer pays farmers up front for the produce, meat and eggs to stock his CSA boxes (he says he works with 50 to 60 local growers every season) and often adds surprise artisan items from Ohio like honey, tea and maple syrup.
Top photo: Some of the vegetables (and a sweet extra) offered to shareholders in the Yellowbird Foodshed CSA / Photo courtesy Yellowbird Foodshed