To-may-toes. To-mah-toes. ’Maters. No matter what you call them, if you want to be slicing into the freshest ones around come summer, you’ll want to sign up to participate in community-shared agriculture. And now’s the time to do so.
The community-shared agriculture (or CSA) model of farming, which developed in North America in the 1980s, is fairly simple: Community members buy in to a farm and pay in advance, which funds the farm upfront during the seed-buying-and-planting season. As crops are harvested, community members receive their prepaid share of them throughout the growing season.
Both farmer and consumer reap many benefits from this model says Jamie Barrett, farmer at Charlottesville’s Bellair Farm. It’s a guaranteed source of income for farmers and a guaranteed source of food for the consumer, and by eliminating the middleman of the market, a CSA typically means lower prices for the consumer and more money in the pocket of the farmer, says Barrett.
A number of local farms offer CSA programs, and with more than 700 shares up for grabs between them, there are plenty of opportunities to join. Shares can be hefty, so consider your family size and veggie consumption habits when signing up, and go halvsies with a friend if you need to.
3194 Preddy Creek Rd., Charlottesville
Pickup: At the farm
Cost: $20 per week per adult; $4 per week per child. Atelier offers both pay-in-advance and pay-as-you-go models.
Pro tip: Atelier Farm works a bit differently than other CSAs in the area. Members pay by family size, then come to the farm and pick whatever vegetables, herbs and flowers they need. Farmer-owner Austin Mandryk promises some not-so-common CSA items like corn and edamame, and more than 100 different varieties of tomatoes in the summer.
5375 Bellair Farm, Charlottesville
Dates: 22 weeks, mid-May through October
Pickup: Waldorf School (Mondays), St. Anne’s-Belfield School (Tuesdays); Meade Park Farmers in the Park and at the farm (Wednesdays)
Cost: $650 full share; $375 half share
Pro tip: The Bellair Farm CSA works market-style, where members mix and match from pickup site offerings to fill their bags each week. Members can also visit the farm once a week to pick their own flowers and herbs.
Little Hat Creek Farm
163 Shaeffers Hollow Ln., Roseland
Dates: 19 weeks, June 6 through October 10
Pickup: Wednesdays, at the farm and at a house in Charlottesville’s Starr Hill neighborhood
Cost: $595 delivery; $540 farm pickup
Pro tip: Farmer-owners Heather Coiner and Ben Stowe bake sourdough bread in the farm’s wood-fired oven and include a loaf in each weekly share. In July, there are blackberries.
Radical Roots Farm
3083 Flook Ln., Keezletown
Dates: 18 weeks, late May through September
Pickup: Wednesdays, 4-6pm at Albemarle Baking Company
Cost: $500; each weekly share fills a half-bushel basket
Good to know: Now in its 14th season, the Radical Roots CSA program is one of the longest-running in the area. It’s done market-style, where CSA members show up to the pickup and choose produce from that week’s harvest.
Pro tip: Radical Roots specializes in greens, offering a salad mix every week, all season. CSA members get to choose an herb each week, too.
Sweet Greens Farm
291 Coles Rolling Rd., Scottsville
Dates: April through November, split into three seasons
Pickup: Mid-week, at the farm and a to-be-determined location in Charlottesville
Cost: Check Sweet Greens Farm’s website for updated pricing and pickup information.
Pro tip: Sweet Greens offers a separate flower CSA, as well as some “farm bucks” shares where, the more $50 punch cards purchased at a time, the more money saved ($95 for two cards saves 5 percent; $440 for 10 cards saves 12 percent) when shopping at the farm’s Charlottesville City Market and Farmers in the Park market stands.
Whisper Hill Farm
7127 Scottsville Rd., Scottsville
Dates: 27 weeks (May 2 through October 31)
Pickup: Wednesdays, at Meade Park Market
Cost: $450 for $525 worth of credit
Good to know: For this market-style CSA, customers pay $450 upfront for $525 of credit to spend as they wish at any of Whisper Hill Farm’s market stands. Farmer-owner Holly Hammond keeps a register with customers’ balances that is updated every week as they pick up their produce.