Two years prior I had been addicted to local farmers markets. I was so excited to get us to as many different local farms markets that by the time we got there, I had no idea what we ‘needed’. I bought frivolously and spent excessively. I was simply overwhelmed with fresh choices. I just didn’t know how to work the rooms. There were so many farmers with so many of the same choices with different prices. This table has tomatoes for this much… but that one has them for the heirloom tomatoes for that much… and oh did that table have basil by the bunch or was that the one that had the flowers for five bucks. I would eventually just throw up my hands and buy anything. We would get home and I’d be without something we really needed and need to go back out to the store… Whole Foods of course. Obviously that’s the same quality… even if its a minimum $40 purchase with every trip. I knew our grocery bill and shopping habits were out of control. We were eating good, no doubt, but there was most definitely a better way short of growing our own. Growing our own would be the best option, but we were apartment bound at that time. I started my research and read about co-ops.
Co-ops were a mysterious group of bargain shoppers that found the best deals on fruits, vegetables and many other random things. They purchased things in bulk and divided it amongst the members. The members pay and rotate dividing duties. Or you can pay extra to never do packing. It sounded right up my alley. But who were these people? Where do they buy from? Is this someone with a Costco card? All the extra options got overwhelming and I sort of gave up on the co-op idea.
We had gone peach picking (or was it pumpkin) at Alstede Farms at some point earlier and must have signed up for their mailing list. There it was one day, the little Alstede ‘newspaper’ with their updates on events and info about their farm. I thought, how cute, let me take a look at what they have coming up. There it was, join our CSA! Of course I was thinking, what the hell is a CSA?
A CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. The basic idea of CSA farming is a cooperative relationship between the farmer and his customers. Based on an annual commitment to one another, community members provide a pre-season payment to purchase a “share” of the season’s harvest. The member then receives a weekly box of a wide variety of fresh vegetables and fruit through the growing season, harvested at the peak of ripeness and flavor.
I fired up the computer and found out it was Alstede Farms first year putting together the CSA and how much it would cost us. I pretty much immediately called the farm and signed us up for a half share. I don’t even think I thought it all through, the benefits as well as the possible negatives. I didn’t care. I was never going to need to question if pears were in season or which tomato looks the best. I wouldn’t have a choice. The farm will pick for me! Plus, who better to know what is in season! Oh wait, they don’t have a choice since they can only harvest what is IN season! Perfect!
What I didn’t account for was the struggle to use everything in the box before we needed to pick up our next share! Or pulling fruits and veggies out that I had never heard of in my life. And not only did I not know what the heck a Kholrabi was, but it showed up every week for what seemed like months. “Another one! We still have four!” The challenge of space quickly became apparent. Then there was the weekly rush to get out of work and to the farm before they closed up shop and we lost our veggies for the week. It was a stressful first year run for us. I don’t know if the farm contributed to our motivation to purchase our first home, but we certainly had to juggle the farm with the house hunting.
All in all, we decided to join again this year. They now offer a delivery service, now home delivery sure sounded tempting, but the delivery fee skewed our good value. They did offer a remote pickup from a location in Morristown. Basically, eight of us pickup from one place in Morristown and we split the delivery fee. Genius. We’re in. Here are some photos of our first week’s share. I failed to photograph the dozen fresh eggs. We decided against adding it to our weekly share despite their deliciousness.