Because pressure canning tomatoes from the supermarket feels wrong
February 8, 2010 4:50 AM   Subscribe

I recently got a pressure canner for Christmas, and, being the treehugger that I am, I would like to eat local and join a CSA. Anyone have any advice for finding a good one near the Somerset county, NJ region?

General advice on picking out a good CSA/what size share to get/what price to expect/tips on joining is also great. I've never done this before, but I feel like knowing how to can, trying to eat less meat, and generally liking the idea of "eat local" means that this would be a great idea for me. Plus, this would be a good way to force my family out of the "carrots or broccoli" vegetable rut.

I don't live too close to any "real" farmer's market, so I think a CSA is my best option.
posted by mccarty.tim to Food & Drink (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I can only offer anecdotal evidence about my own CSA. YMMV.

I paid $300 up front for a "single" share, which lasted 6 months and was MORE than enough food for two people each week. A sample haul, from August, was this:

1 head of lettuce
.5 lbs. French Haricot vert beans
1 bunch of leeks
2 peppers
1 lb. Potatoes
1 bunch of collards
1 lb. heirloom tomatoes
.5 lb. zucchini

Other weeks I got herbs, beets, turnips, canteloupe, carrots, PURPLE carrots, radishes, squash, peas, LOTS of greens like chard and kale...

I found that some of the vegetables lasted way longer in my fridge than they would have if they'd come from a supermarket.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:27 AM on February 8, 2010

Look no further than Honey Brook Organic Farm. We've been members for 11 years and haven't been disappointed. Even in bad weather years most weeks we still usually get more than we can eat, and we're 2 adults and a young kid on an individual share. In fact, we're contemplating getting a juicer this year to use up the week's leftovers before they go bad. And the Empress is right, the produce does last a LOT longer than store bought produce.

The farm is located on the property of the Stony Brook Millstone Watershed Reserve just outside Pennington. This page has links to their application. If Pennington is a bit too far for a weekly trip, they do box shares that are dropped off at a number of pick-up points around central NJ, including Somerville and Bridgewater. I think boxed shares are full shares, but you can always find someone to split with if you're inclined.

It's one of the biggest CSAs in the country, and they definitely know what they're doing. In addition to the rented property on the Watershed Reserve, farmer Jim Kinsel also leases other land in the area, often farms that are preserved through farmland preservation programs or by local environmental groups. He's also an active voice in state agricultural politics. Feel free to me-mail me if you want any more info.
posted by mollweide at 6:35 AM on February 8, 2010

We've been members of the Cook Student Organic Farm (CSOF) for 8 years. It's run by Rutgers students who work as paid interns during the summer and fall. The farm has a partnership with Elijah's Promise Soup Kitchen in New Brunswick whereby approximately 20% of all veggies grown and all unclaimed member shares are donated to them. It's a struggle to eat all the goodies we get during the growing season.

Genesis Farm up in Blairstown might be an option for you. It is a bit far for weekly pickup driving from Somerset, but they are really lovely people and their educational programs are top notch. A plus is the inclusion of grain/wheat in the fall shares. They also have a root cellar so they distribute shares year-round.

Like mollweide said, Honeybrook Organic Farm is a local favorite. They deliver shares to certain areas and I believe that they open their berry and flower fields to self-pick for members as well.

Happy, healthy eating!
posted by tidecat at 7:01 AM on February 8, 2010

Looks like you've got some good local recommendations. More generally: Just Food coordinates all the CSAs in the city. Here's their page on CSAs; it may be useful.

And anecdotally: If possible, talk to members before you join. The quality of produce can vary a lot, and different organizations have different levels of organization. The CSA around the corner from me has an okay farmer and it's completely chaotic every week. I got fed up and switched to one a quarter-mile away. I already knew the farmer from the greenmarket and it's very well-run. I know I sound like a crank or a priss or a prissy crank but you're going to be visiting this place for months; small annoyances build up.

A couple more:

* It's a big fat check to write but if you average things out over the season, it's ridiculously cheap. So don't panic when the June pick-ups are meager. Come Aug-Sept, you'll be inundated.

* I love the fact that the stuff just shows up and I have to deal with it. I much prefer cooking to shopping and the variety of produce is great for the kind of rut-getting-out-of you're looking for.

* You'll love it! You're joining for good solid reasons and you don't seem to have any grandiose expectations. (Some people in my CSA complain when the potatoes aren't washed.) Check out the recommendations above and I'm sure you'll find something that works for you.
posted by dogrose at 8:20 AM on February 8, 2010

Thanks! Good advice, everyone! I'm thinking I might go for Honeybrook, although it would be a bit of a drive to go to Pennington each week. Still, it sounds like anything more than an individual share would be too much.

How big are the shares from CSOF, tidecat?

These all sound like great options. Thanks, everyone!
posted by mccarty.tim at 8:45 AM on February 8, 2010

Oh, some more details: We're a three adult household, so I'm torn between the individual and family share. Any advice?
posted by mccarty.tim at 1:34 PM on February 8, 2010

CSAs are great - I sadly can't offer you any specific endorsements for that area, but I applaud you joining one.

You are likely not going to get enough volume of one type of thing to really be able to can in any sort of quantity. Some CSAs have subscriptions that function like 'extension packs' for things that some people want but not others, like bread, eggs, flowers or canning vegetables. That may be an option.

Depending on where exactly you are, the Tri-Country Cooperative Auction Market, in East Windsor, outside of Princeton, might be a great option for you. It's run by farmers, and it operates 2 or 3 days a week during the summer and early fall. Many customers are farmers looking to round out their roadside produce displays, or local restaurants. It's not as organic as a CSA would likely be, but it give you the chance to buy super cheap and in bulk. The money also goes directly to the farmer and so helps build/maintain your local non-industrial food infrastructure. They've also added a CSA!

You can go the the main auction part, which is a lot of fun, or they also have direct sales to the public before the auction starts.

I visited two summers ago, and had a blast. I wished I had a canner and wasn't going to be moving to CA in the next week, as $10 for 25 lbs of tomatoes and $8 for a 20lb box of peppers, among other fabulous deals, was too good to pass up. They have direct sales to the public in the early evening, and later they actually have a produce auction with an honest-to-God old timey auctioneer. Even if you'd rather eat 100% organic, I highly recommend visiting just to watch and hang out. A whole bunch of great people.

Here's their website, a NY Times article, and my blog post about it.
posted by foodmapper at 3:07 PM on February 8, 2010

If you're all diligent about eating your veggies, three adults can probably handle a family share from Honeybrook. And I can assure you will get enough tomatoes to can a few batches. There's always one or two weeks where we take home 10 lbs on an individual share.

I'm glad tidecat brought up the pick-your-own. In addition to raspberries, strawberries, peas, beans and herbs, the pick-your-own includes canning/sauce tomatoes. I don't recall how much since I haven't taken advantage of them, but I suspect it's a quite a healthy amount. Another nice thing about Honeybrook is that they give you a choice amongst a number of vegetables. For instance, maybe they'll put out broccoli, beets, radishes and chard, and let you mix and match four bunches. That way you might be able to grab enough of one thing to can if you're willing to forgo the others.

I didn't mean to imply all the herbs are pick-your-own, they do pick some herbs for you, like basil and cilantro. They have lots of other herbs available for pick, like sage, heirloom basil, thyme, chives, rosemary, etc. With a family share you can get more than enough to dry or freeze.

Finally, if you or anybody in your household likes flowers, their pick-your- own flowers are unbelievable. People who buy fresh flowers once a week would be better off buying a share in the farm. It would cost the same as the flowers and it would net them the veggies.
posted by mollweide at 5:10 PM on February 8, 2010

I dunno if anyone is still looking at this, but do you get much fruit with Honeybrook or Rutgers?
posted by mccarty.tim at 10:41 AM on February 13, 2010

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