Subscription boxes are available for everything from clothing to coffee, but one type of subscription can have a major impact on a local community: a CSA.
Community supported agriculture (CSA) is a popular way to eat locally by pre-purchasing food directly from farmers and collecting it on a regular schedule throughout the growing season.
Kentucky Proud, a designation that recognizes locally produced products, has more than 70 members participating in CSAs in 2023. These farms offer a variety of fruit, vegetables, eggs, meat, herbs, flowers and more. Customers can select the size of the share they want and receive fresh, locally grown items straight from the farm.
Sophia Brown, owner of Sweet Maple Farms in Bagdad, is entering her second year offering CSA boxes. Sweet Maple Farms is a Kentucky Proud member served by Shelby Energy Cooperative.
Last June, Brown’s CSA boxes included fresh herbs, Swiss chard, purple cauliflower, bok choy, zucchini, banana peppers and more. Brown says CSA members don’t have to be expert cooks to enjoy the variety in the weekly boxes. She sends out a weekly newsletter that describes the items in each box, explains how to properly store the produce and gives ideas on how to incorporate multiple ingredients into a recipe.
“My passion is to teach people how to eat locally and seasonally, teaching people how to try things a different way,” Brown says. “I want members to feel confident cooking with their CSAs.”
Sweet Maples Farms’ CSA season runs for 12 weeks starting in May, but members can sign up on a month-to-month basis if they aren’t sure about committing to an entire season. Items are picked at peak freshness, so the contents of the box can change week to week.
No matter what’s in that week’s CSA box, Brown’s recipe for Sheet Pan Roasted Veggies is always an option since the ingredients can change with the season.
Sophia Brown and Caleb Banta are
partners and co-owners of Sweet Maple
Farms in Bagdad, served by Shelby Energy Cooperative. Photo: Tim Webb
Meeting the demand
Some farms have adjusted their plans to meet the demand for CSA boxes. Old Homeplace Farm in Oneida first offered a meat CSA share with the option to add vegetables. Maggie Bowling, co-owner of Old Homeplace, says they now sell vegetable CSAs with the option to add meat.
“It turns out a produce box is more convenient for customers,” she says. “It takes out the think work of meal planning.”
Old Homeplace Farm, a Kentucky Proud member served by Jackson Energy Cooperative, has weekly pickups for CSA shares May–December. But the rotation of vegetables available each week can be intimidating for a newcomer, Bowling says.
“I recommend starting out with a small share if you’re new to CSAs,” she says. “Ask the farmer about what’s in the box and what kind of support the consumer gets. Newsletters or Facebook groups can share recipe ideas and storage tips. I had no idea you could freeze a whole tomato but I learned that from a member.”
Staying connected with members is a highlight of CSAs, Bowling says. The purchase of a CSA share also gives the farmers some security in their profits for the length of the season.
“Having customers in the community believe in us and give a commitment to buy a CSA share means they’re going to be with us for the whole season,” she says. “Food always brings people together.”
A favorite CSA recipe of Bowling’s is a twist on bibimbap, a Korean rice dish. Using any leafy green and crunchy raw veggies, this 30-minute meal is packed with produce.
A partnership in healthy eating
Justin Scarbro, owner of Scarbro Farm in Grayson, says CSAs are about more than just food: they help build connections within a community. Scarbro Farm, a Kentucky Proud member, is served by Grayson RECC.
“When you sign up for a CSA, you’re buying a share in the farm,” Scarbro says. “It gives us a sense of purpose in the community.”
Purchasing a CSA share helps the farmers purchase items like seeds, soil and equipment, but Scarbro says he likes that the CSA model lets him see the customers every week and develop those relationships.
Scarbro Farm grows vegetables and raises pork, and is also a farm-to-school partner for Carter County Schools. Teaching customers about the benefits of eating locally grown food is another purpose a CSA serves, Scarbro says.
“A lot of people want to eat healthier but don’t know where to start,” he says. “With a CSA you’re getting fresh-picked produce. Everything will last longer, and it’s convenient.”
Scarbro Farms’ 16-week CSA usually begins in June and normally includes summer favorites like melons, corn and plenty of greens. Scarbro’s mother creates recipes based on what’s in a typical CSA share, including a Browned Pork Chop and Cabbage Skillet.
Save the scraps
When preparing vegetables, don’t throw away the peels, stalks or leafy tops. Turn them into broth for future meals. Sophia Brown, owner of Sweet Maple Farms, shares tips and directions for making a simple broth.
Save scraps in a gallon-size freezer bag, and avoid cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower, since they tend to taste bitter in broth. Always rinse veggies before preparing the broth.
Dump frozen bag of scraps into a large stock pot and fill with 6–8 cups of water. Add sea salt and pepper to taste, and two bay leaves.
Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer and cook uncovered for a minimum of one hour. If a more concentrated broth is desired, cook longer.
Strain the scraps and let the liquid cool completely. Freeze broth in 4-cup increments for most recipes. Can be refrigerated in glass jar or container for up to a week.
Read Brown’s full blog post on making broth here.
FIND A CSA NEAR YOU
Interested in signing up for your own share of garden-fresh produce? Visit the Kentucky Proud website to find local producers, or connect with the farms featured in this article. Kentucky Proud CSA directory
7636 Bagdad Road, Bagdad
9876 North State Route 11, Oneida
13010 State Route 9, Grayson