Got a black thumb but love garden-fresh produce? You could make do with barely ripe produce from the supermarkets, or wait until co-workers start frantically gifting everyone with surplus squash and tomatoes come late summer.
Or you could guarantee a fresh supply of locally grown fruit and vegetables all summer long, by buying a share in a CSA, or community supported agriculture.
CSAs essentially allow you to buy a share of a farm's output. Or as Neil Stauffer, of Penn's Corner Farm Alliance, says, "It's a farmer's market in a box." Subscribers can pick a package that suits their needs: A "basic" share is generally meant to feed two adults, though many farms offer larger packages often favored by families with kids.
You get a boxed-up portion of whatever the farm grows, generally once a week. You can pick up your share at the farm during designated hours; many local CSA programs also have set drop-off times and locations in the city.
Typically, subscribers pay upfront for a season, which begins in May or June and runs through fall. Some CSAs take into account "like and dislike" lists from customers, but joining a CSA is a bit of a culinary gamble: If there's a bumper crop of arugula or the apples succumb to disease, your box will reflect that.
"People get food they wouldn't normally get," says Jen Montgomery, of Blackberry Meadows Farm. Trying new produce is part of the fun, she says, and having fresh produce handy can encourage folks to grab a carrot over Doritos.
With "green" being the concept du jour and, Michael Pollan's ubiquitous bestseller The Omnivore's Dilemma introducing the masses to the concept of eating plants that don't need a plane ticket to get to your table, supporting local farming seems like a no-brainer.
"Local food awareness has skyrocketed," says Montgomery.
"It's community, too," Stauffer explains. "It's a big part of keeping farms viable in your region."
At press time, the following farms still had subscriptions available:
Sarver's Hill Organic Farm, Greensburg. 724-834-2334. Basic share cost: $475.
Penn's Corner Farm Alliance, Shelocta. 412-363-1971. www.pennscorner.com. Basic share cost: $465.
The Kretschmann Farm, Rochester. 724-452-7189. www.kretschmannfarm.com. Basic share cost: $525.
Harvest Valley Farms, Valencia. 724-443-5869. www.harvestvalleyfarms.com. Basic share cost: $480.
Dillner Family Farm, Gibsonia. 724-444-6594. www.dillnerfamilyfarm.com. Basic share cost: $300.
Blackberry Meadows Farm, Natrona Heights. 724-226-3939. www.blackberrymeadows.com. Basic share cost: $475.