A guide to Harford County's CSA programs

While it might be tough to imagine heading out to a local farm for an armful of fresh vegetables when it’s still chilly, it’s almost that time of year. Harford County farms are gearing up for growing season, and that means it’s time to sign up for a Community Supported Agriculture program.

CSAs, if you don’t know, are programs run by (usually) small farms that allow nearby residents to buy a share of their growing season crops. The result: An upfront fee gets you a weekly trip to the farm for a load of produce from about May through October or even November.

Tom Paduano, a farmer at Flying Plow Farm in Joppa, says hosting a CSA allows farmers to get income before the growing season starts, freeing time for them to focus more on planting and harvesting and less on making market sales. The members, in turn, get a season’s worth of fresh produce.

Paula Harman, who owns Harman’s Farm Market in Churchville with her husband, says CSA members are getting the very freshest fruits and vegetables possible. “It’s not shipped across the country,” Harman says. “We pick them ripe, whereas what you buy at the grocery store has usually been picked early and ripened on its trip.”

As well, because of farms’ typically diverse crops, you’re often getting to experience and try new foods.

“Maybe you haven’t eaten Swiss chard or butternut squash,” she says. “It makes me go out of my comfort zone and branch out. It’s like when you join a gym and pay up front -- it makes you feel like you have to use it.”

Paduano agreed, adding that being a part of a CSA is also about the experience.

“It’s more than an exchange of money for vegetables,” he says. “You’re investing in our farm, and you get to come to the farm and experience it weekly. You get to see how it changes from spring to summer to fall.”

Many CSAs allow members to spend as much time at the farm as they want, often providing a you-pick portion of tomatoes and herbs. Members develop relationships with farmers.

“You’re experiencing a connection to the farm, the farmer, and where your food is coming from,” Paduano says.

Brad’s Produce
550 Asbury Road, Churchville

Season dates: Regular season runs from mid-May to Oct. 24. Early spring share runs from April 18 to May 9. Summer share runs July 11 to Aug. 29. Early spring share register by April 15. Summer share and regular season share register by May 13.

Share price: Regular season, full share: $515. Biweekly share: $300. Weekly half share: $325. Summer share: $225. Early spring share: $115.

Discounts: Register by April 1, regular season, full share: $495. Biweekly share: $290. Weekly half share: $315. Summer share: $200. Register by Feb. 15, early spring share: $100.

What you get: The early spring shares include asparagus, bok choy, spinach, spring mix lettuce, radishes, spring onions and possibly some potted herbs or farm-fresh local eggs. The summer shares include produce from the summer crops, including corn, tomatoes, green peppers, green beans, squash, zucchini, peaches and carrots. Regular season shares include a wide variety of produce from each growing season: spring, summer and fall. Fall produce includes garlic, apples, squash, cauliflower and potatoes.

Add-Ons: Twelve brown free-range eggs, picked up weekly from May 16 to Oct. 24: $90; one-pound loaf of all-natural bread, picked up weekly from May 16 to Oct. 24: $96.
What else the farm sells: Brad’s Produce sells a wide array of flowers, from planters of ivy geraniums to begonia pots, dahlias, marigolds and a range of perennials.

How you get it: Regular season: Pick up your full share at the farm on Thursdays, your biweekly share every other Thursday or your weekly half share on Tuesdays. Early spring share: Pick up every Thursday. Summer share: Pick up every Thursday.

Flying Plow Farm
2009 Old Joppa Road, Joppa

Season dates: Runs from late May to the week before Thanksgiving.

Share price: $700

Discounts: Returning customers get a $50 discount if they sign up by Feb. 15.

What you get: Each week you can expect 10 to 20 items. Along with your share, you can harvest any you-pick crops for yourself. In the spring, typical produce includes arugula, beets, cabbage, cilantro, cucumbers, kale, parsley, peas, radishes, scallions and spinach. Summer items include flowers, basil, beans, beets, leeks, potatoes, onions, peppers, squash, tomatillos, watermelons and tomatoes. Fall crops include carrots, collards, onions, peppers, turnips, potatoes and beets.

What else the farm sells: Flying Plow Farm also sells pasture-raised chickens and free-range brown eggs. Chickens are available for sale through Winter Harvest online ordering.

How you get it: Pick up your produce at the farm on your designated day, either Tuesday or Friday, from 2 to 8 p.m.

Organic: The farm is certified organic.

Harman’s Farm Market
2633 Churchville Road, Churchville

Season dates: The regular season runs from the third week in May through the middle of October. Summer share runs from July 9 to Sept. 3.

Share price: Full share: $495. Half share: $325. Summer full share: $250.

Discounts: Register by March 1, half share: $300. Register by March 1, summer full share: $225.

What you get: The early season shares include strawberries, sugar snap peas, romaine lettuce, bok choy, broccoli and beets. Midseason shares include corn, cantaloupes, onions, peaches, cucumbers, green beans, tomatoes, zucchini and yellow squash. The late season crops include tomatoes, green beans, apples, grape tomatoes, butternut squash and sweet potatoes. Shares might also include peaches or apples from the farm’s partner, Colora Orchards, as well as eggs from Andy’s eggs, honey from Cybee’s, cheese or ice cream from Keye’s Creamery, cider from Lohr’s Orchard or blueberries from Spring Valley Farm.

What else the farm sells: Harman’s Farm Market also sells pumpkins, straw and chrysanthemums.

How you get it: Pick up your share on the agreed-upon day, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, between 10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.

Wilson’s Farm Market
2826 Conowingo Road (Route 1)
Bel Air, 410-836-8980

Season dates: Runs from July through October.

Share price: Full share: $475. Half share 1: $275. Half share 2: $275. Half share 3: $300. Flexible share: $450.

What you get: Half share 1: 2/3 of a bag for either the first eight weeks or the last eight weeks of the season. Half share 2: 2/3 of a bag every other week for the entire 16-week season. Half share 3: 1/3 of a bag every week. Flexible share: Allows share owner to come to the Wilson’s Farm Market store any day of the week during business hours to select his or her choice of fruit and produce, as well as from other local produce carried. Flexible shareowners receive a 10 percent discount as an additional credit on Wilson’s produce and fruit. Summer produce includes beets, candy onions, eggplant, cantaloupes, sweet corn, sweet peppers, tomatoes, watermelons and cucumbers. Fall shares include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, turnips, pumpkins, cabbage, green beans and cauliflower. Fruit includes peaches, apples, nectarines, red raspberries, blackberries and plums, depending on the season.

What else the farm sells: The store sells other locally sourced products, like eggs, honey, cheese, jams, jellies, soaps and condiments. Fresh-baked pies and cookies are also available.

How you get it: Pick up your produce at the time and place you choose: Tuesday from 3 to 6 p.m. at the store; Tuesday from 3 to 7 p.m. at the farm; or Saturday from 2 to 5 p.m. at the farm. When you pick up your share, you can cut fresh herbs from the herb garden. A trade table will allow you to swap out items in your share.

Add-ons: You can add an egg share, a dozen eggs every other week from Andy’s Eggs in Fallston, for $32. A cut flower share, sourced from a local flower grower in Street, offers fresh seasonal bouquets for $8 a week from July through September.

How to Pick your CSA

Location: Try to pick a farm that’s convenient for weekly pickups. Paula Harman, of Harman’s Farm Market in Churchville, says that your pickup should not feel like a burden. “If you’re far away, the novelty will keep you going for a little while, but as you get into the fall, a long drive gets to be a bit too much.”

Flexibility: While some farms offer one option -- a full share that can be picked up weekly -- most allow room for tailoring. They might offer single-season shares, partial shares, or they may allow you to split a share with a friend or neighbor.

Pickup style: Consider whether you’d like to pick up your share at a farm or if you’d rather go to a farmers market. Some CSAs will have your box packed and ready, and some will have you select and box your own share. As well, consider whether the CSA has a you-pick herb garden and whether it allows you to substitute produce that you don’t like.

What you’re getting: While the size of a share shouldn’t vary much from farm to farm, the types of fruits and vegetables might. Look at what the farm grows to see if you recognize your favorite greens. Also, many CSAs offer extras, from eggs to meat, flowers and honey.

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