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Local CSA programs are open for sign-ups — and registering early is a good idea

Programs help people eat better, while keeping farms profitable

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Forget Christmas: For Pittsburgh foodies, the most wonderful time of the year is now — CSA sign-ups are upon us.

In Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), consumers buy produce directly from area farmers, and pick up either at the farm or area drop-off locations. CSAs help people eat better, while conserving farmland (and farmers' livelihoods) by keeping farms profitable.

While each CSA comes with its own nuances and options, most offer weekly/bi-weekly shares for roughly the same cost: $20-30/week. Many local programs are open for sign-ups now — and registering early is a good idea.

Small, organic Blackberry Meadows Farm encourages members to "meet the farmers" by picking up shares of produce — mostly heritage/heirloom varieties — from the farm, though limited distribution is available. Those on tighter budgets may opt for seeds and seedlings to "grow your own" share. Blackberry Meadows is increasing its CSA membership to 150 this year, but early sign-ups are still suggested.

Many, but not all, of the 200 members of Brenckle's Farm and Greenhouse pick up their shares at the farm in Zelienople. Regular shares may be modified into low sugar/starch options, and Brenckle's prides itself on offering a variety of specialty sweet peppers. Sign-ups remain open into June.

Meanwhile, produce from Clarion River Organics is grown using horse-drawn plow instead of fossil fuels. CSA coordinator Katie Schwarz anticipates sharing "the first of anything that's just come into season" with members — and shares can be picked up at numerous locations.

Penn's Corner Farm Alliance supports more than 30 area farms with pickups at three dozen Pittsburgh locations. Specialty items include cheese, maple syrup, dilly beans and more; egg and flower shares are also available. While registration for the summer growing season extends through May, spring shares close by the end of March, or until they're gone.

Kretschmann Family Organic Farm, in Rochester, accepts over 1,000 CSA members, and has many area drop-offs; shares include organic fruit, and are tailored to personal preferences. Kretschmann's "Agriculture Supported Community" program offers aid to struggling families — and helps ensure that a chance to share in locally grown, nutritious food isn't just for the affluent.

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