I have heard mention of community-supported agriculture programs but don’t really know what they are. The name sounds very cool, but can you let me in on the specifics?

Redding, Calif.

Dearest Bryties,

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The springtime alarm is sounding, and your question is perfectly timed. Some of you might be experiencing hints of spring right now, some not (like me! I’m in a secret location where the all-time snowfall record is under threat) — but regardless, it’s the time of year for all of us to look into community-supported agriculture possibilities for the growing season.

Join a CSA and your kids could be this cute.

Photo: iStockphoto

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Last August, we went over a few of the details of community-supported agriculture. The timing was off. Let’s do a brief review — I’ll switch it up for those who do click back — and then wade into serious proselytizing.

It costs money to run a farm. Farmers need cash to buy seeds, babies, fertilizer, compost; fix equipment, pay employees, pay the mortgage, etc., long before they will sell a single lettuce leaf or lamb. These investments are risky, in a way, because if there is a crop failure, the farmer can’t recoup through sales, and risks going into debt or going broke. Community-supported agriculture is one solution to this inherent problem. In a CSA, consumers provide farmers with operating capital, in essence buying their food ahead of time and taking the risk of crop failure along with the grower.

How might this work in your actual life? This month, you would look around at your local food co-op, or online, and discover a few CSA farms in your area. Get their publicity materials, which could be a website or a small flyer. The materials will give a cost, an amount of food, and a description of the system by which you will get the food. For example, for $450 you might get a “full share” at a vegetable farm, enough veggies to feed a family of four on a regular basis. For a little less money, some farms will let you buy a half share, which is handy if you’re a single person or smaller household. You would pay that money now — this is the farmer’s operating capital, up front. On a regular schedule — say, every Wednesday from May to October — the farm will harvest a box full of various veggies for every member, including you, and leave it at a drop site, which might be a house in your neighborhood, or a local store, or a farmers’ market.

After paying money in March, the only thing you would need to do is pick up your veggies every week and eat them. Usually, though, you can participate much more if you like by working on the farm or going to parties and other farm-related events. The model I describe is just the basic one; there are many variants, and CSA is not only for vegetables.

Did I mention that CSA is a model used by fairly small farms? Often people just getting going on their veggie farm, who want to feel connected to their consumers and have a role to play in their communities, use CSA. I do know farms on the larger end of small that still use CSA as a steady income to help stabilize operations and have good community relations.

I’ve left no room for proselytizing. Well, CSA is GREAT. It’s a real gift to a farmer to place faith in them, to give them cash to get the work done, and to participate with them in the joy of food. You get a special box full of amazingly yummy vegetables (or whatever they grow) every week, which forces you to eat creatively and healthily. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it.

OK, you’re ready to go, right? Is everyone reminded about CSA sufficiently? Go read my other articles. The end of the first one gives directions for finding CSA on the web if your local natural foods store can’t help, or if you don’t have a natural foods store. The second talks about how to deal with unfamiliar foods, and I’ll give the secret here: butter.

Broccoli rabely,