How to bring local farms to your table | Food | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

How to bring local farms to your table

Buy Fresh Buy Local on how to find the CSA that is right for you

click to enlarge How to bring local farms to your table
CP photo: Jared Wickerham
Derek Dumont puts together farm-share boxes at Harvie Farms Pittsburgh in Lawrenceville on Mon., May 11, 2020.
Every year, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is an important component of the growing season for many farmers. It's a system in which consumers purchase a share at the beginning of the season and, for the next few months, receive weekly or bi-weekly boxes of produce straight from the fields. The model — similar to a subscription but instead of to a magazine, to a farm — allows the community to invest in local agriculture, and in turn, gives farmers financial relief at the start of their growing season.

“Imagine if you put in four months of work to grow six acres of corn, and then nobody wants to buy the corn,” explains Erin Hart, director of Farm to Table Western PA and Buy Fresh Buy Local. “[CSAs] are a contract between the consumer and farmer to say, ‘I’m going to buy from you, no matter what happens.’”
click to enlarge How to bring local farms to your table
CP photo: Jared Wickerham
Derek Dumont puts together farm-share boxes at Harvie Farms Pittsburgh.
But this year, she says, signing up for a CSA is a whole new world. In response to the pandemic, farmers and consumers are finally meeting in the middle, “where they should be,” according to Hart. The outbreak has pushed consumers to look past convenience and shop “where it matters.” They are more willing to travel to pick up produce and are now stuck at home, willing to cook. More farmers are offering delivery, and many are adding CSA drop offs in Allegheny County. To accommodate the growth of consumer demand, farms are increasing the number of shares available.

However, if you’re new to the CSA world, the concept can be intimidating. Finding the right CSA to fit your needs can be tricky. Follow this advice from Hart and the Buy Fresh Buy Local team, and you’ll be on your way to finding the perfect CSA.

1. Find farms near you. This seems like an obvious notion, but it’s crucial. It may be easy to travel a longer distance to pick up your CSA box now; however, when things start to pick up again, it won’t be.

Use a resource to narrow down your options. Buy Fresh Buy Local has a guide that lays out farms offering CSAs and where the drop-off points are located. Chatham University is building a comprehensive, online resource of Pennsylvania farms and their respective buying options. In their local food guide, Farm to Table has a CSA drop point locator. (However, Hart does note that some of these resources are dated to the beginning of January and may be missing information.)

2. Follow your farmers. Check their social media pages and websites regularly; this is where they communicate. Many have implemented online ordering — for CSAs and individual orders — and are actively updating their offerings.

3. Look for a CSA that has the right price point and size for you. Different farmers offer different things. Some are able to break their CSAs into small, medium, and large, while others are one-size-fits-all. If customization is important, find a farm that allows for you to leave out certain vegetables or tag your box with diet preferences.

And search for add-ons. In addition to their regular, fruit-and-vegetable CSAs, many local farmers have additional pieces for purchase. In need of cheese, eggs, or flowers? Find a CSA that offers extras.

4. Don’t be afraid of having too many vegetables. With the diversity of crops local farmers are putting out and the ability to customize, surplus is unlikely. But it happens. Did your box include too many heads of cabbage? Turn it into kimchi or sauerkraut. A CSA may force you to get creative in the kitchen, but that’s half of the fun.
click to enlarge How to bring local farms to your table
CP photo: Jared Wickerham

Looking for a CSA? Check out one of these local farms:

Cherry Valley Organics
1713 N. Main St., Burgettstown
Cherry Valley’s highly-customizable CSA share includes produce for weekly, bi-weekly, and monthly deliveries or pickup. Add-ons include coffee, cheese, and flowers. To order, visit its website and click on the “farm share” tab.

Harvest Valley Farm
6003 Cunningham Road, Gibsonia
Harvest Valley offers three types of memberships for curbside pickup and drop-offs throughout Allegheny and Butler counties. Members of this share can choose their vegetables for each box.

Harvie Farms Pittsburgh
700 River Ave., North Side
Harvie Farms is a collective of Western Pa. farmers who “believe that it should be as easy to buy from your local farmer as it is from Amazon Prime.” The platform hosts a variety of farm shares, categorizing them by pickup or delivery location.

Kretschmann Organic Farm
257 Zeigler Road, Rochester
From June through Thanksgiving, you can pick up a box of produce from one of Kretschmann’s various city drop-off points. The three sizes are available every week with add-ons — mushrooms and coffee — up for grabs every month. Sign up through email, found on its website.