By Micha Ide of Bright Ide Acres for Pierce County Fresh
Photos by Rylea Foehl
On a crisp and sunny January afternoon, I headed out to visit with Gillian Locascio of Dancing Sprouts Farm. Gillian is a one-woman operation, farming on less than one acre in Orting, WA. Her farm produces over 200 varieties of vegetables, and she services approximately 75 families through her CSA, with delivery in Tacoma and Seattle. CSA stands for community supported agriculture – customers purchase a season’s worth of vegetables, usually in advance, in exchange for the freshest, most delicious locally grown produce from their farmer.
I met up with Gillian to ask her some questions about her CSA, and about the new CSA Finder Tool from the Eat Local First Collaborative.
M: As you know, the Eat Local First Collaborative just launched a new CSA Finder tool to help consumers find their match while looking for local farms. How do you think this tool will be useful to your farm and others?
G: I’m excited that we’re finally working on a regional tool that integrates everything! A lot of us farmers sell into different foodsheds, and it’s nice to have that information all in one place. I’ve also been a CSA customer myself, and it can be hard to do comparisons across farms individually. It’s so nice to be able to do that all at once and find the right match because joining a CSA is a big commitment! I’m excited about this project.
M: The pandemic has created a bit of a boom in interest in local food. Has your farm experienced increased demand? And what do you anticipate for 2021?
G: Absolutely. I, and a number of other CSA farmers I know, sold out within a few weeks of the stay-at-home orders being issued last spring. Most of us found ways to add additional shares when we saw the increased demand, but we kept selling out. The demand really spiked, and we all made valiant efforts to produce more, but we already had our farm plans in place. It does seem that people’s interest in local foods – for health reasons and for that shorter food chain – will persist. I expect to see continued demand, and this year farmers will be better prepared to meet it.
M: What are the top three things you want everyone to know when they’re deciding on a CSA?
G: One is that a CSA is really a partnership between you and your farmer. Each model is really different. Don’t be afraid to talk to your farmer! And be sure to take the time to pick a CSA that will really work for you. Whether it’s a farmer’s choice or a market-style CSA, you have to find the right fit.
Be prepared to change the way you eat and try new things! You’re going to be eating seasonally, and more in balance with what the earth around you can provide. This is challenging but worth it. Eating this way helps keep us connected to the time that is passing.
Finally, I would suggest people start small! And be gentle with yourself. People often feel guilty if they don’t get through all of their vegetables, so try to sign up for a smaller share at first.
M: Do you have suggestions for “CSA care”? What should folks do when they get their box into their kitchens?
G: Pull everything out and get excited! Research any items you don’t recognize. Most farmers do include recipes and storage tips. The good news is the produce is so much fresher than grocery store vegetables, so things should last longer. Certain items, like tomatoes, should stay out on the counter. Greens and root veggies should be stored in plastic bags in the crisper. Be sure to wash and reuse the plastic bags to avoid waste. For carrots, beets, turnips, and other roots with greens, top the greens and store them separately. This will keep your roots fresher, longer. And be sure to use those greens too!
M: Do you include recipes with your CSA?
G: Yes. I follow a bunch of other farmers and chefs online, so I get a lot of good recipe ideas. As my farm business gets a little older, I have a growing bank of recipes that customers have sent my way. Customers do appreciate getting vetted recipes the first time they try a new vegetable. Most CSA farmers will also create boxes with recipes in mind, and include items that will go together well.
M: Where can folks learn about your CSA and sign up?