If you don’t have a green thumb, don’t have the garden space or just want to support a local farm, you might consider getting a CSA share.
CSA stands for “community-supported agriculture,” and it’s pretty much just like it sounds. Members of the community support local agriculture — aka farmers — by purchasing shares of the farm’s CSA program, much like a subscription. You pay a set amount in advance and receive boxes of bounty in return.
Farming being farming, there is some risk involved if things don’t go well that season. There’s no reimbursement, but generally it’s a win-win because the farmers get some advance working capital and an assured market and you get farm-fresh produce.
Schedules for CSA programs vary with each farm, so you should be able to find one that suits your needs. Typically, the shares are available on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, but the length of the commitment might range from just a couple months to several. Some CSAs even allow participation on a week-to-week basis, or allow you to put your subscription on hold if you go out of town for a couple weeks.
Pickup and delivery options also vary. Some farms prefer you to come get your CSA box so you can visit the farm and really get to know how your food is grown, while others will deliver shares to a centralized location for pickup.
For more information and a partial list of local CSAs, visit centralcoastgrown.org/csa-directory/.
One local farm offering a CSA program is BeeWench Farm in Shandon, and proprietors Sarah Ziegenbein and Ryan Reeber attend several local farmers markets as well.
Launched in 2009, BeeWench recently moved to its own 10-acre property and established the only certified California Naturally Grown CSA in San Luis Obispo County.
As Ziegenbein explained, the peer-reviewed CNG status “is more than just not using pesticides or herbicides. It’s a holistic approach that focuses on practices throughout the entire farm.” That might include crop rotation, reduced water use, using less fossil fuel, and so on.
BeeWench’s CSA typically includes a wide variety of produce, from collards to cabbage, from broccoli to beans, from spinach to sprouts.
However, the farm also produces free-range chickens that are fed only organic, non-GMO/soy/corn feed, and eggs (the latter thanks to the able management of Sarah’s
10-year-old son Jacob, who is charged with full responsibility of the laying hens). Those products are not only available at the farmers markets, but also to CSA members.
“The goal is for the farm to be like a one-stop shopping experience where you can get the majority of your food from us — veggies, meat, eggs, etc.,” Ziegenbein said. The couple also recently planted some fruit trees, so that will eventually be added into the mix as well.
Though Ziegenbein and Reeber have fully embraced the holistic, healthy lifestyle they’ve created with BeeWench Farm, the couple never thought this would be their career. Reeber is an Ohio transplant, formerly a financial adviser, and by his own account ate “nothing organic” growing up. Ziegenbein grew up in Paso Robles, and though she was “always surrounded by agriculture,” she pursued a path of accounting and finance.
“It really started for me with a garden for my family,” Ziegenbein said. “I loved being out there planting and harvesting and it just grew. Ryan started farming to ‘help’ me and it turned into his job too!”
As far as creating BeeWench Farm, going to markets and developing a CSA, she said, “we really just want people to have access to good local food.”
For more information on BeeWench Farm, including its CSA program and which local farmers markets it attends, go to beewenchfarm.com.