A guide to living local in Southern New Hampshire

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It’s Time to Sign Up for a CSA...

But How to Choose?

Story by Tom Long and Stacy Milbouer
Fiddlehead Contributing Editors

“Eat Your View.” It’s a locavore’s call to action, and it has the ring of truth. If we don’t support our local farmers their pastures will eventually blossom with McMansions. One way to help avoid the subdivision of our agricultural heritage is to participate in a Community Supported Agricultures program, or CSA, and spring signup time is coming.

Karen Goddard of Nashua is a leader in the shop/buy local movement and has belonged to the Brookford Farm CSA for four years. The 600-acre diversified farm is in Canterbury, but has CSA drop-off points in 15 locations, including the Cross Fit Center in Nashua where Goddard picks up her shares.

“I like the variety of vegetables in the spring and summer and fall,” Goddard said. “This particular CSA also offers meat, dairy and maple syrup shares.

“Their cows are grass-fed,” she continued. “It’s very convenient. It’s just a couple minutes out of my way on the way home from work on Tuesdays. They send out email message each week with a list of the vegetables and other items that will be distributed and some recipe ideas to go along with them.”
CSA farms produce vegetables, meat or dairy products and sell membership shares to distribute the risk of farming. Subscriptions are sold prior to the growing season and may be delivered to several locations or picked up at the farm.

New Hampshire has had an important role in the movement.

“Farms should not be run for profit, but for the good of the community. The more remote the average person is from farm life, the less able the farm is to provide us with clean, healthy food,” said the late Trauger Groh, a follower of German naturalist-philosopher Rudolf Steiner, who was instrumental in the creation of the country’s first CSA, Temple-Wilton Community Farm, which was founded in 1986.

Temple-Wilton opened concurrently with another CSA in Amherst, Mass. The Amherst CSA closed several years later, but the Temple-Wilton Community Farm is still in operation. You can check it out at twcfarm.com.

Local Harvest is a national group that provides a directory of more than 30,000 family farms and farmers’ markets, along with restaurants and grocery stores that feature local food. They call their website localharvest.org a “grassroots” directory because each member creates and maintains his or her own listing.

The organization offers some great tips for those deciding whether to join a CSA. The first suggestion? Know thyself. “If you truly do not like vegetables, signing up to receive 20 pounds a week is probably not going to go well.”

There are several questions they suggest that you ask yourself: Do you like to cook and does your schedule allow you to make homemade meals most evenings? Will it be fun to try new vegetables?
Make sure you answer for yourself and the people with whom you live since asking others to change their eating habits may be a challenge.

And what will you do with excess produce? Is there a neighbor, or a soup kitchen you might share with? According to Local Harvest, “feeling bad about wasting food is one of the top reasons former CSA members chose not to renew.”

Eileen Brady of the Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter said fresh produce and food products are always appreciated.

“Anyone with extra greens or extra anything – Nashua Soup Kitchen would welcome it,” she said. “One of our donors gave half of her CSA to one of our clients the last two summers – lots of creative ways to use them.”

Shop around. Find the most appealing CSA. Do they offer veggies you might like? Meats? Eggs? Fresh flowers? Seafood? Or dairy products? Must you pick up your share at the farm or do they deliver to a site that may be closer?

And don’t have unreasonable expectations. If you assume being a CSA member you won’t have to buy produce at a market, you’re apt to be disappointed because most CSA members find they have to supplement their produce, particularly fruit and oft-used items like onions.

In addition to asking about the cost, and payment plan if available, Local Harvest also suggests some questions you might ask the farmer before you commit: How long have you been farming? How long have you been doing a CSA? How did last season go? How many members do you have? It might also help to talk to a couple of members before committing.

The New Hampshire Department of Agriculture lists more than two dozen CSAs, some of which are in the Merrimack Valley. You can find them at agriculture.nh.gov.