We may still be counting the days until spring, but farmers have been thinking about what the warmer weather brings for months now, planning for this year's CSAs -- Community Supported Agriculture. Sign-ups for shares already are well under way.
Several dozen local farms sell shares of their crops directly to consumers, who regularly pick up fresh produce throughout the growing season. Depending on the CSA, the selection can include all sorts of vegetables, fruits and herbs -- even flowers, meat and cheese.
Each year, CSAs seem to add new twists to entice members. Here's a look at trends cropping up this year.
Sustainable fishing shares
Move over, CSA, your upstart cousin, Community Supported Fishery, is ready to dazzle Long Islanders with shares of fresh, sustainably caught local fish through the Montauk-based Dock to Dish CFA (917-853-8559, docktodish.com). Fisherman and restaurateur Sean Barrett works with 36 commercial fishermen to deliver at least two pounds of fillets to members each week.
Fair warning: It's not cheap. At $18 a pound, a 14-week season starts at $504, and you'll also need a $144 starter kit that includes an insulated canvas tote bag, eco-friendly freezer blocks and a thermometer.
Just as with a CSA, members of a CSF pay in advance and get a share of whatever the catch is that week. Members will receive such selections as pole-caught bigeye tuna, black sea bass, Atlantic swordfish, fluke, shellfish, squid, bluefish and tile fish. Although boats may be out fishing for a day or two, once the fish reach the dock, Barrett says, they are processed and delivered to distribution points within 24 hours.
Barrett and his fellow fishermen use sustainable practices like rod and reel and spear guns. "In addition to knowing where it was caught and when, you can talk to the fishermen and know who caught it and how," Barrett says.
Dock to Dish's distribution area is small -- pickups are in Amagansett, Mattituck, Montauk and Sag Harbor, but Barrett believes that the taste and freshness will draw members, nonetheless.
Expanded U-pick options
Some CSAs are giving members more reasons to visit the farms -- namely, an open invitation to pick their own produce.
Farmer Catherine Baldwin of Amber Waves Farm CSA (amberwavesfarm.com) in Amagansett calls it "U-picknicking." Members ($700-$825) are welcome to pick their fill of broad beans, cherry tomatoes, flowers and berries at no extra cost, then sit a spell afterward at one of the farm's many tree-shaded picnic tables.
"It will be fun for people to go into the field and fill a pint or two and then sit for a bite under a tree," Baldwin says.
Garden of Eve (631-722-8777, gardenofevefarm.com, $615 full share) in Riverhead says thank you to its members through its new Farm Club. Enjoy a free pint of strawberries and a half-pint of blackberries during U-pick season. And, in addition to members-only events and classes, Farm Club members get preferred seating at public events and festivals.
Community in CSAs
If you really want to put the "C" in Community, why not take a class, workshop -- or even play farmer?
If your young ones get excited about gardening, Biophilia Organic Farm (211 Manor Lane, Jamesport), 631-722-2299, bit.ly/1iAUa45, $500 or less) may be for you; it has a young farmers program. Children and grandchildren of members can visit the farm to plant, tend and harvest lettuces, onions, beets, tomatoes and herbs.
"I want them to learn what it is like to grow things and take them home to feed their families," says farmer Phil Barbato, who also hosts member-only potluck lunches throughout the season and a tomato and garlic tasting in August.
Such events are becoming de rigeur aspects of joining -- and really belonging -- to CSAs.
WHEN|WHERE 10 a.m.-2 p.m. April 12 at Farmingdale State College, 2350 Broadhollow Rd., Farmingdale
INFO 631-420-2392, farmingdale.edu
As part of Farmingdale State College's "Waste Not Want Not" sustainability open house, 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., farmers will be on-site from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to share details about this year's CSAs. It's a good opportunity to ask questions about what kinds of produce are grown and how the farm builds community among its members.
While you're there, check out workshops, hands-on demonstrations, samples of local food and vendors entrenched in sustainable gardening.
Topics will include making gardens more hospitable for wildlife, reusing and repurposing local materials, edible plants in an ornamental garden, soil building and water conservation.