In the middle of a snowy winter in Maine, it can be hard to think about starting your garden or finding fresh local produce, but now is the time — especially if you want to participate in Community Supported Agriculture or the Maine Senior FarmShare Program.
A CSA is when farmers offer “shares” of their harvest for the public to purchase. You pay for your share, or part of it, before the growing season begins, and you commit to “share” the risk of bringing the crops to market.
These shares usually include a box or bag of produce each week of the growing season. The variety of produce depends on the season and array of products grown by each farmer. Many farmers offer different-size shares as well. You may be able to purchase a full share, half-share or even a quarter-share, depending on your preference and the size of your household.
If this is your first year participating in a CSA, you might consider purchasing a smaller share or splitting a share with a friend or family member. Before you sign up for your share, consider doing a bit of research and pull together resources so you can properly prepare, store and preserve your investment. Recipes, food-storage fact sheets and food-preservation materials can be found at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension website at www.extension.umaine.edu.
Although the summer growing season is a common time to participate in a CSA, you also could consider participating in a CSA that offers shares of eggs, homemade bread, meat, cheese or even provides you with vegetables during winter months. Depending on the product, the CSA may operate year-round. You also can buy shares in a Community Supported Fisheries, or CSF. For more information and a CSF near you, check out the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance at www.namanet.org.
Once you have decided to participate in a CSA and are ready to cook, store and preserve your vegetables, how do you find a farmer? You can start by asking farmers locally at a farmers market, or search the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association website (www.mofga.net) and check out the Maine CSA directory.
Once you locate a farmer near you with CSA shares available, contact the farmer directly and get to know him or her. Ask questions about what vegetables you can expect and how long they have been farming and offering CSA shares. Consider asking the farmer for a few CSA members as references to help you make your decision.
Another great resource in Maine is the Maine Senior FarmShare Program. Maine Senior FarmShare participants receive a free share worth $50 from a Maine farmer for eight weeks during the growing season. To participate in the Senior FarmShare program, you need to be a Maine resident 60 or older (55 if Native American) and meet income eligibility guidelines. Registration for Senior FarmShare takes place in March and April of each year. For more information on available shares near you, contact your local Area Agency on Aging by calling toll-free 877-353-3771.
CSAs are a benefit to both the member and the farmer, and what better way to know your farmer and your food than by buying shares in a CSA? If you have a family, you will be pleasantly surprised by how much your children will look forward to the new vegetables each week and how much fun they will have learning about new foods during the growing season.
Kate Yerxa is a nutrition educator at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension.