Elliott Lengel, one of three partners in the Mercer-area Lengel Brothers Farm and Market, is trying something different this year in his Community Supported Agriculture program (CSA): offering the option of pre-ordering bushels of vegetables for canning and freezing.
"Once people sign up, we'll make up a schedule with them," he says, explaining that as tomatoes, peppers, snap beans, peas and corn hit the right point in the season, he'll put together the bushels they'll need.
Jennifer Montgomery, co-owner of Blackberry Meadows Farm in Natrona Heights, is also offering something new: a Garden Share. Instead of delivering vegetables ripened on the vine throughout the season, members of the Garden Share CSA pick up the organically sown seedlings to plant in their own plot, following the farm's schedule for greens, radishes, beans, carrots, tomatoes, tomatillos, cucumbers, peppers and squash, among others. The CSA members get advice along the way for how to plant and care for the seedlings.
"It's kind of a system to put ourselves out of business," Montgomery says, "but we figure if we lose a [traditional] CSA customer, we've been a success."
Lengel's and Montgomery's twists on the typical CSA are attempts to distinguish themselves over the next few weeks, as customers interested in CSAs choose the farms they will subscribe to for the season. Other farmers, meanwhile, are offering the right to visit the farm and pick your own veggies throughout the growing season.
There are more than two dozen CSA options in the wider Pittsburgh area, according to the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture. Many will accept CSA orders for just a short window — deadlines range from mid-April to early May — as they plan and budget for their spring and summer plantings.
CSAs help farmers and consumers alike, says Martha Matthews of Washington County's Matthews Family Farm. Customers get a "wholesome" food supply throughout the growing season, while also helping the farmers who spent the winter with little cash flowing into their operations. The pre-orders, she says, give the farmers the "money when they need it: at the beginning of the season."
For a list of local CSA options, visit www.buylocalpa.org/western-pa-csa.