A couple of years ago, there were only a two or three options to participate in community supported agriculture in Albuquerque. It’s great to see that a number of other farms are now offering weekly shares to members. As wonderful as it is to be able to choose between all of these farms, however, it’s a little difficult to decide which is best for you…. so here are my tips on picking out a CSA!
1. Think about the food you usually cook. Are carrots on every other dinner plate? Perhaps you prefer the quickness of salads? Obsessed with kale? Or maybe you’re more likely just to pick up a piece of fruit on the run? Although it’s important to be open minded to new foods when signing up for a CSA, you should try to pick out a farm which grows at least a couple of your favorites. After all, if you’re trying to give up on the grocery store and just work with your farm share, it’s a lot tougher if you’re missing out on your beloved eggplant ALL summer. The produce included in various farms’ shares differs greatly from farm to farm – it’s important to have an idea what you’re going to be getting for the many weeks of the harvest. Many farms include descriptions of previous years’ weekly shares on their websites. Although these are no guarantee of future bounty, it will give you an idea of the farm’s scope and diversity. You can always feel free to contact the farmers themselves – they’re generally happy to discuss with you their plans for the season before you sign up for the CSA.
2. How many people are in your household? Despite advertising themselves as enough to feed a family for a week, most shares vary significantly in their offerings. Some CSAs offer large quantities of few items and others small amounts of many items. If there are only one or two people in your home, the second scenario might appeal, as it provides ample variety without overwhelming you with, say, two pounds of kale to eat alone in a week! Some farms offer half shares – allowing you to pick up a share every other week. This is a good option for individuals or couples who don’t cook too often but would like to support local agriculture. If you have a larger household or tend to cook in larger amounts, you may want to consider larger farms, whose CSAs are able to provide large portions of each item in the share. There are recommendations below of specific farms to consider for your household’s needs.
3. Finally, where do you live? Although some farms offer multiple locations for pickup or even deliver to your home, most offer a single location, often at the farm itself. How far are you willing to go to pick up your share? Although it is a wonderful experience to be able to go down to your farm each week to collect your share, it might not be feasible for some families to, say, drive 10 miles into the Valley at 5 o’ clock on a Wednesday. It’s important to consider the feasibility of picking up your share – the last thing you want to do is pay for a share you’re abandoning every other week.
So, now you have an idea of what you’re looking for in a CSA…. which one to pick?
Where: In the North Valley of Albuquerque, Los Poblanos farms 40 acres along the Rio Grande. Although much of the produce included in their share comes from this location, Los Poblanos works within a network of sustainable farms to provide a consistently plentiful share. Some of these farms are as far as California. Their share is available through most of the state, including Albuquerque, Placitas, Corrales, Rio Rancho, Santa Fe and Los Alamos.
Length of season: year round
Cost: varies $10 – $40
Who’s it for?: Families with young children; picky eaters; people with busy schedules; individual orders. Offering many convenient pickup locations, as well as optional home-delivery, Los Poblanos offers a customizable share. They offer $10 shares of either fruit or vegetables as well as a full harvest share, which varies in price. You can select a favorite fruit or vegetable to be included in every share – for example, oranges or carrots – as well as specifying one food you will NOT eat. And you’ll never get it! You can add individual items to your weekly delivery/pickup, through their online marketplace. They also deliver gourmet foods and gift boxes of local products, such as honey and mustards. You can place orders week to week on their website, checking out this week’s offering before purchase, or sign up for recurring orders of your favorite items. They offer a discount if you prepay $1000 by offering $1100 in credit with their marketplace. This is a great option for many people; however, if you are looking to go radically local, Los Poblanos is probably not for you.
Where: Edgewood, NM. With 15 potential acres on its farm, Frost Hill currently cultivates 2 acres and intends to expand onto 4-5 acres in its second season in 2012.
Length of season: 22 weeks, May 11th – Oct 5th
Who’s it for?: Locavores looking to support a fledgeling organic farm; lovers of root crops and leafy greens. Because of its location at 7000 ft, the growing season at Frost Hill is significantly shorter than that of other Albuquerque farms. Elevation offers challenges to this farm in growing certain crops but can be beneficial during the hot summers. Frost Hill often has salad greens and leafy greens through June and again in late August, months which are too hot to grow greens in the valley of Albuquerque. Also, the Sangre potatoes they grow are the best I’ve ever had! Their share is the most affordable in town at only $20 a week.
AMYO FARMS (505) 238 0234
Where: Amyo Farms consists of 5 fields, in Bosque Farms and the South Valley. None of their plots is larger than an acre. Their pickup location is in the South Valley, across the river from Albuquerque Botanical Gardens.
Length of season: 23 weeks, May 11th – Oct 19th
Cost: $600 a season ($25 per week)
Who’s it for?: Everyone! Their affordable and diverse shares include some of the best local produce in New Mexico. Each week at the farmers market, they exhibit gorgeous vegetables. They grow a lot of potatoes, heirloom tomatoes and a variety of onions. They have fruit trees and chickens on their polyculture plots. Although their share is sometimes supplemented by produce from other farms, Amyo guarantees that their boxes only contain New Mexican produce sourced directly from farmers.
Where: Los Ranchos, NM; pickup locations in Nob Hill and Los Ranchos
Length of season: 20 weeks
Cost: $460 for 20 weeks at $23 per week or $250 for 10 weeks at $25 per week.
Who’s it for?: The adventurous. With little to no information available on this farm, those who sign up for this CSA take a gamble. Evidently they are somewhat reliable, as their produce is occasionally carried at La Montanita Coop. However, I was unable to find any details on the contents of their CSA. It is one of the best priced shares in town though, so it might be a great value after all. If anyone has any firsthand experience with this farm, please let me know!
Where: Escabosa, NM (29 miles SE of Albuquerque); pickup locations at Whole Foods in Albuquerque and in Santa Fe.
Length of season: 18 weeks
Cost: $500 ($27 a week)
Who’s it for?: The organic-obsessed. Although most of the farms offering CSA shares in the area are pesticide free and practice sustainable agriculture, East Mountain Organics is certified by the USDA and offers an entirely organic share. Their large farm claims that garlic and onions are their main crops; however, they consistently bring an abundant variety of produce to market each week. In fact, you could shop exclusively from their farm stand and find little missing in their offerings. They do not detail the contents of their share; however, given the scale of the farm, I imagine there would be substantial portions of each item. There are details of their crops available here: http://www.eastmountainorganicfarms.com/crops/default.html
Where: After losing its lease on the Los Poblanos site in the North Valley, Erda moved downriver to several field locations in South Valley in 2006. Each year, fields vary in number and location; however, the main site at Blake St. & La Vega is farmed every year and functions as headquarters. Shares are available at the Blake location and at another site in the UNM area.
Length of season: 26 weeks ($21 a week)
Cost: $550 for full share; $450 for working share (4 hrs per month); free for work trade (4 hrs per week)
Who’s it for?: Students; couples; those looking to get involved. Erda Gardens is a biodynamic learning center with several fields. For those looking to get involved and learn the nitty-gritty about no-tractor, biodynamic farming, Erda offers a welcoming community. They offer a limited number of work trades in exchange for a share – a great way to learn about farming in the desert. Alternatively, it’s possible to participate once a month for a discounted share. Also included in membership is free admission to Erda’s infrequent seminars of biodynamic farming. Although the farm will be under new leadership in the 2012 growing season, it has been known for growing a diversity of heirloom and unusual varieties. I was a member of this CSA for the 2011 season and was consistently bringing home a diversity of asian greens, mustard greens, collards, salad leaves and wild greens. The main location for Erda’s gardens is in a rather exposed, hot microclimate; therefore, production is rather strained in midsummer months. However, more temperate weather in the Spring and Fall benefit the growing season. Erda was one of the last farms this summer with tomatos on the vine and one of the earliest to bring turnips and beets to market.
Where: Right on the fringe of Albuquerque, Chispas farms 4 acres literally 3 houses from the city limits. They have a nifty deal with a landlord who lets them live on his property in exchange for farming the land.
Length of season: N/A
Who’s it for?: Garlic lovers; organic obsessed; people living downtown. This small farm was started in 2001 and received its organic certification in 2006. They specialize in heirloom varieties and saving garlic for the Seed Savers Exchange. They grow over 350 kinds of garlic! They also grow beans, squash, tomato and a beautiful array of carrots – including my favorite purple carrots! Chispas has a harvest party every Friday night for friends of the farm – it’s a great way to get a feel for the vibe of the farm and get to know Eli and Amanda who run Chispas! Because it’s so close, it’s also great for those living downtown or in Nob Hill – it’s easily accessible by bus or on a bike!
Where: Beneficial Farms, based in Santa Fe, is a cooperative of 40 farms throughout NM. They offer several pickup locations in Albuquerque and Santa Fe.
Length of season: Year round – members can join/cancel at any time.
Cost: Theirs is an unconventional payment system – you make a monthly payment of at least $150 and choose to distribute this credit between weekly shares (which cost $25) and additional items from their online Marketplace.
Who’s it for?: Travelers; picky eaters; meat lovers. It is a very convenient situation for families who are comfortable committing to spending at least $150 a month on local produce. Their online Marketplace is very convenient to navigate and offers local juice, eggs, meats and frozen berries. In addition to being able to augment your share with additional products, Beneficial Farms offers the chance to trade items from your share with others, through a table set up at distribution. If you tend to travel frequently, you can cancel your weekly share easily – the credit remains in your account. Unclaimed shares are donated to a food kitchen.
Those are all of the farms in the Albuquerque area I am aware of. For a complete list of New Mexico’s farms offering CSAs, visit http://farmersmarketsnm.org/Farmers_Markets/CSAs/index.html. Good luck picking out the farm for you!