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If you’re like me, you let your friends try something new before you try it out. That way, they can report back on whether it’s worth your time, money and effort.

That’s how I feel about CSAs. I have one or two friends who have signed up for Community Supported Agriculture, or CSAs, but I still haven’t because I haven’t been sure what I’d be getting myself into. This week, I’m educating myself (and maybe you) on what this is all about.

CSAs have become a popular way for people to buy local, seasonal food directly from a farm. Basically, a farmer offers a certain number of “shares” to the public, which serve as a type of membership or subscription for people who are interested. Usually once a week, “members” receive a box, bag, or basket of seasonal produce (mostly veggies) throughout the farming season.  Pile of fresh vegetables, including scallions, garlic, onions, and a red bell pepper.

Each CSA program operates a little differently. While some farms put together a box of produce for you, others allow you to pick and choose some of what goes into your weekly share. Some CSAs, such as Brookfield Farm in Amherst, MA, and Allandale Farm in Brookline, MA, offer “distribution hours” when people are welcome to come pick up their portion of the produce at the farm itself. Other CSA operations, such as Parker Farms in Lunenburg, MA, offer convenient pickup locations for those in the Boston area, in places such as Davis Square, Porter Square, and Central Square.

So what will you find when you open up your CSA? That depends on what season it is. According to the Massachusetts-Grown Produce Availability Calendar, the fruits and vegetables available during July include: blueberries, peaches, raspberries, arugula, bok choy, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, chard, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, garlic, green beans, salad greens, mung beans, shiitake mushrooms, potatoes, onions, snap peas, green peas, peppers, cherry tomatoes, summer squash, spinach, radishes, scallions, and zucchini. Later in the summer months and up through late September, many more fruits and vegetables become available—think apples, squash, and plenty of other favorites.

My biggest question has always been, “but what do you DO with all of these veggies?” Many of the CSA websites list recipes for all of the seasonal fruits and vegetables, which come in pretty handy when you’re staring at a new veggie you’ve maybe never cooked with before. So, not only are CSAs easy and healthy, but they may also help you beef up your cooking resume. With regards to the size of a produce share, many farms offer the option of signing up for a small or a large basket – that way you get to determine how much food is right for you or your household.

Some CSAs, such as the Red Fire Farm in Granby, MA, organize public, family-friendly events like their Strawberry Soiree, which is an annual strawberry tasting with pick-your-own fruit, a farmer’s market booth, homemade strawberry shortcake, and live music. Land’s Sake Farm, located closer to the city of Boston in the town of Weston, also presents a variety of opportunities to participate in fun events at their CSA location, such as Volunteer Days and Summer Youth Programs.

I still haven’t signed up for a farm share, and some CSAs are all filled for the summer. But that won’t stop me from quizzing my friends about what they’re getting from the farms, finding out what they’re doing with it all, and begging for samples.  And next summer, who knows?  I just may be ready to take the plunge.

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