Local CSAs: What you need to know

Biophilia Organic Farm in Jamesport is one of

Biophilia Organic Farm in Jamesport is one of the farms offering memberships for its CSA, Community Supported Agriculture, in which members for a set price get a weekly share of the farm's produce. Here, a basket showing the varieties of peppers that the farm grows. (undated) (Credit: Biophilia Farm)

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With nearly 30 Community Supported Agriculture programs -- CSAs -- scattered across Long Island, the decision of which to join can be daunting. And the clock is ticking -- many CSAs fill up in March.

"You want to connect with a farmer who meets your needs and shares your values," says Nicky Dennis, CSA coordinator for the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York. "Do they offer potlucks? Farm tours? Does the work requirement match your involvement level?"

From a practicality standpoint, a convenient distribution site, where you'll pick up your produce each week, is a big consideration. And, of course, the price of buying a share is important, too. Here are three factors to consider before joining a CSA:

1. What do you get in a share?

That weekly box of vegetables can be a pleasant surprise -- or a lesson in the bizarre. The latter was the case for Marissa Anselmo, who is entering her second year as a member of Invincible Summer Farms in Southold.

The farm grows "hundreds of varieties of tomatoes and peppers," says Anselmo, 36, a teacher from East Northport -- not at all what she was used to eating from the grocery store.

Most CSAs keep a running list of the produce grown the previous season, giving prospective members an idea of what to expect.

"Most farmers will ask members what they like," says Jennifer Campbell, farm manager at Bayard Cutting Arboretum in Great River. "As a farmer, you also want to expand the taste of members. Vegetables such as kale, Swiss chard and broccoli rabe may be new to some."

Dietitian Denise Hall, a five-year member of Garden of Eve in Riverhead, this winter enjoyed her first watermelon radish, which is white on the outside and red in the center.

"We taste-tested it, and we loved it," says Hall, who is a member of both the farm's summer and winter CSAs.

2. Is the price right?

With shares ranging from a few hundred dollars to nearly $1,000, it is easy to fixate on the cost alone. To lessen the financial blow, consider signing up for a half share, which is especially nice for those new to CSAs.

If you're willing to put your back into it, some farms discount shares in exchange for a little volunteer time at the farm or the distribution site.

Green Thumb CSA in Huntington, for example, allows members to work up to 12 hours to shave $100 off the $720 share price. If you're really industrious, Biophilia Organic Farm in Jamesport has a 100 percent work share.

"You agree to work four hours a week for a full share or two hours a week for a half share," says Biophilia's Phil Barbato, whose price runs $475 for a full share or $300 for a half share.

3. How involved do you want to be?

"I see the farm as a community of people," says Donamarie Belford, 60, of Bay Shore. She's belonged to one CSA or another for nine years, including Bayard Cutting Arboretum's program, which regularly hosts pickling and canning classes.

Hamlet Organic Garden in Brookhaven invites members to the farm for occasional potluck dinners. Sylvester Manor Educational Farm on Shelter Island brings local musicians to perform during Saturday morning pickups. Other CSAs run farm tours and harvest festivals. The goal is to get members engaged in the farm.

"I'm relatively small, so I get to know everyone on a personal basis," says Barbato. "Members can visit the farm any time they like."

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