in partnership
Not only are you getting fresh fruits and vegetables regularly, you are helping your local farmer's secure a cash flow before the growing season starts, and both the consumers and the farmers build a sense of community (Image: Julie Gallagher)

Eat your veggies and support local farmers by joining a CSA this fall

Let's start from the very beginning. What even is a CSA?

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. It's a model used by local farmers or co-ops to encourage their communities to buy and eat in-season local produce. Basically, at the beginning of a season, members pay for their "share." Then, over the course of the season members receive fresh produce grown on that farm weekly or biweekly. Not only are you getting fresh fruits and vegetables regularly, you are helping your local farmer's secure a cash flow before the growing season starts, and both the consumers and the farmers build a sense of community. It doesn't get more "local" than this! While CSAs are mostly comprised of fruits and vegetables, many offer other products, including meats, cheeses and breads.

What are the pros and cons of joining a CSA?

Pros: You are getting fresh, locally-sourced (and often organic) produce. There is a real sense of community that forms between farmers and consumers, since you know exactly where -- and who -- you are getting your produce from. Also, since you aren't necessarily given a choice in the produce you receive, it encourages you to try new foods and recipes. There's also a convenience factor: by paying up front you know that for an allotted time, you don't have to worry about buying produce. Some CSAs can deliver to your house, and others often have multiple pick-up locations.

Cons: There is often a lot of produce that comes in these boxes, so if you can't eat it all, or you don't share it with anyone, there may be some food waste. This also may not be a good option if you travel often and won't often be around to pick up your CSA box from the farm or other designated location. You also have to accept the risk of the farming before the season starts - CSA subscribers don't typically get reimbursed if the farm doesn't produce much or has a tough season.

Do you think a CSA is right for you? If so, here are some in the area:

Lancaster Farm Fresh Co-Op offers a fall CSA that runs for seven weeks: November 5-December 17. You receive your shares every other week. You can sign up for their organic fall produce share ($114.45-$230.16), fall fruit share ($56), fall meat share ($245), and other options, too. There are pick-up locations all over the DMV area and you can find the closest one to you by entering your zip code on their website.

Normans Farmer's Market is offering a winter season CSA from November 10- December 15. Pickup is available Saturdays in Bethesda and Sundays in Chevy Chase. The winter CSA costs $140.50 for a small share, $194.75 for a large share and $313.50 for a jumbo share. You can also sign up for an egg share during the winter CSA.

Little Farm Stand has a fall CSA with dates TBD. It runs for eight weeks and costs $325. You can expect apples, greens, fall squash and various root veggies to be delivered right to your door if you live in D.C., Rosslyn, Arlington, Chevy Chase or Bethesda. You can apply to the CSA on their website.

The Farm Bus is a flexible CSA that serves both Richmond and D.C. and offers fall/winter dairy, grass-fed meats or produce. Or you can choose a "full share," which includes everything listed. You can either pick up from one of their designated locations or pay $10 per delivery. This CSA is biweekly and the full share for the fall/winter season costs $1,342.

Groundworks Farm CSA has a winter/spring produce share for $650. This CSA is biweekly from December to May (a total of 11 pick-up days), and allows you to choose some of the produce you receive. Enjoy produce such as spinach, kale, beets, sweet potatoes, brussel sprouts, garlic and strawberries, depending on the month. Pick-up locations are in Arlington, Alexandria, Annapolis or on the farm in Pittsville, Maryland.

From the Farmer is more like a subscription box service of produce curated from various farms in the DMV. You can select a certain type of box: large seasonal, small seasonal, organic, local, all-veggie or all-fruit and then customize it depending on your taste buds. The boxes hover in the $30 price range. From the Farmer delivers it to you in an eco-friendly bag. This isn't necessarily a weekly commitment, so it may be a good option for beginners or those without the time to pick up a weekly box or cook all the produce.

Washington's Green Grocer operates similarly to From the Farmer in that it is a subscription box service with no weekly commitment and you can pick from different types of boxes or create your own. You can see what you are getting and make substitutions if necessary if you pick a pre-curated box. Delivery is free for boxes over $40. Washington's Green Grocer also offers dairy and eggs, meat and fish, bakery items, recipe kits and other fun products.