LocalHarvest Newsletter, March 30, 2012

Welcome back to the LocalHarvest newsletter.

Spring is CSA sign-up season, and all across the country people are looking for the right farm for them. Many months hence, most will look back and have been satisfied with their choice, but a few will have had a less than fulfilling experience. This month, we are devoting this space to increasing the odds that our readers find themselves happily part of the first group come fall.

The single most important element of a satisfactory CSA experience hinges on realistic expectations. Though right expectation is essential in all parts of the CSA contract, the area where we hear most complaints is in overall quantity of produce. If you, the CSA member, sign up anticipating that 100% of your family's vegetable and fruit needs will be met by the CSA, you are likely going to be disappointed. Few CSAs produce as much fruit as most families are used to eating, and few of us eat entirely seasonally. Expect to supplement your CSA box with a few things from the grocery store. Also, make sure you understand the vacation and early drop-out policies before you sign up. The best time to ask questions is before you join! For other aspects of choosing a CSA, including determining whether you are a good candidate for one, please see this article. We also on LocalHarvest have a list of questions to ask before signing up for a CSA.

The second most important thing is trust. You need to trust that the farmer is doing his or her level best. Obviously farmers need to honor that trust and try hard to grow a series of high quality crops, with not too much of anything, and, barring storms or pestilence, not too little of anything either.

Trust applied more broadly includes transparency around where the food comes from. Many CSA farms make arrangements with other local farms to produce a portion of the food for them because, for example, a neighbor's soil may be more suitable for root crops than theirs. All of that is well and good, but we believe that CSA members have the right to assume that everything in their box was produced at their CSA farm unless they are told otherwise. Transparency isn't optional, because it too quickly becomes a slippery slope. Most of us wouldn't mind if someone else grew the potatoes, but if in fact most of the food is being trucked in from sources unknown it isn't a CSA anymore. This is rare, but it happens. And if members aren't told about the food's origins, conditions are ripe for a breakdown in trust, which hurts CSA's good name.

What defines a CSA is open to discussion: it's an evolving model and people are creative. We say CSAs have one or a small group of farmers at the center. There are plenty of other models for distribution of local and/or organic food. We call the ones that are run by non-farmers "third party CSAs" or "aggregators." They sometimes call themselves subscription services, or home-delivery services, or "farm boxes" or something else, but occasionally they call themselves CSAs. Again, there is nothing wrong with this kind of model - some farmers prefer to outsources the distribution end of things! It's the transparency that is important so that everyone has the same expectations, and trust can be preserved. So... ask questions! Ask lots of questions.

And as always, take good care and eat well.

Erin Barnett

From the LocalHarvest Store:

If an Easter ham is part of your family's tradition, this year you might want to order one directly from a LocalHarvest farmer. We have exceptionally good hams, including nitrate and MSG free, boneless, bone-in, and hickory smoked. Order yours this weekend to get it in time for Easter!

Painted Mountain Corn. Aji Dulce Peppers. Emerald Green Velvet Okra. Haley's Purple Comet Tomato. Even the names are beautiful. We have about 600 kinds of vegetable seeds in our catalog. Now's the time! And don't miss our live plant department! We have some unusual offerings there as well.

Not planting a garden this year? Join a CSA!

CSAware: You and Your Members Will Love It.

CSA members love it. It smooths operations and saves CSA farmers time and money. What is it?

CSAware, LocalHarvest's CSA management software! If you have a CSA farm and would like to see the software, let us know let us know. We'd be happy to show it to you.

GMO Labeling Initiative

Readers from California: you have an important opportunity to help require that genetically modified food be labeled. The reasons to be opposed to genetically engineered food are many, not least of which is the fact that they are banned or highly restricted in 50 countries! I was convinced to try and avoid them when I started getting emails from our farmers, saying that if they put a pile of GE corn next to a pile of natural corn and let the hogs or cows choose what to eat, they pick the natural corn every time. I think they know something we don't.

The California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act would simply require foods to be labeled so consumers can choose whether or not to purchase them. As a ballot initiative it requires 800,000 in-person signatures, by April 22. To learn more and find a place to sign on, go to http://www.labelgmos.org/