- What Are ‘Subscription Vegetables’?
- A Subscription Vegetable program allows you to get fresh, local and in-season vegetables, herbs, and flowers, straight from our garden, each week throughout the growing season.
- How Does It Work?
- Our CSA works like this – In the spring people sign up, ordering a ‘share’ of the harvest. In CSA vernacular that makes members ‘shareholders’. Shareholders sign up for a specific size share and ask to pick up their vegetables at one of our pick up spots. (see delivery schedule).
Each week during the harvest season shareholders go to their pick up spot at the time listed on the webpage. That day we have harvested enough vegetables for the shareholders signed up to get their vegetables at that spot. We have put the vegetables out in bins along with a board listing what goes into each share. The shareholders select their vegetables putting them in the tote they have been given by the farm. Our delivery season goes on for 19 weeks, from early June until late October.
From the farmers’ point of view it works like this. During the winter the farmer begins to work up a growing plan decides how many people, or shares, he/she will grow vegetables for, computing how many seeds this will mean, how much land it will take. Devising strategies for protecting the growing vegetables from animals, insects, diseases and harmful weather. When the seeds need to be planted to give the shareholders their vegetables.
Starting in January, she begins buying the seeds. In early February heating the greenhouse and beginning to plant seeds into flats. In April, at the time of the last frost, transplanting seedlings out into the fields. Watering, fertilizing. Then, beginning with the first delivery day harvesting enough vegetables, loading and then delivering to the shareholders.
- What Vegetables will I get?
- We usually plant about 50 different types of vegetables plus just about every cooking herb we can grow in this area. For an idea of what to expect go to our history, herb and seed pages.
- How many vegetables will I get?
- Because of the vagaries of farming we can’t guarantee the exact number of vegetables you will receive. However, we plan for each shareholder to get eight vegetables a week, enough of each vegetable for one or two servings. This means a one person size share will get 8 vegetables with one or two servings of each vegetable. A two person size share will contain about 8 vegetables with 2 to four servings.
Sometimes depending on conditions that we can’t control there will be more or less in a share. Each year we try to further limit the uncontrollable factors. This year we have added more water storage and over 5000 square feet of high tunnels for protected growing.
- Will I get the same varieties and amounts of vegetables each week?
- The short answer is no. In June, in the Washington area you will get a lot of greens (lettuce, pac choi, arugula, mizuna, tatsoi, etc). The vegetables most people are accustomed to eating (tomatoes, peppers, squash, string beans, eggplant, etc) don’t start ripening locally until mid-July. So, in June and early July you will get mostly greens. The traditional vegetables do not usually start ripening until early July and are usually in full force in August. Last year, because of the unusually cold and wet spring vegetables in the mid-Atlantic area were almost 6 weeks later than normal. This meant that tomatoes that usually start ripening in early July didn’t ripen until almost mid August. Hopefully this was a one year phenomena, however just in case we have added 6000 square feet of ‘high tunnels’ a type of greenhouse that protects vegetables from untoward growing conditions.
- A CSA or subscription vegetable program is not for everyone. There are several reasons why.
Most Americans plan their meals then buy their food.
With this type of program it is the other way around – you get the food that is ripe and then plan your meals around what is available. This means no tomatoes in June or October but all the tomatoes you can eat in late July through early September. It means no salad in August (this might change with some of the new warm weather varieties of lettuce -we do not use genetically modified seeds) but plenty of greens in June and October.
In other words, with a CSA you are getting vegetables and fruit as they are locally in season. You are getting vegetables, herbs and fruits that grow in this climate and you are getting them when they come ripe in this area.
This a radical departure from the international food distribution system that most Americans have become accustomed too. Remember, the average distance that the food in your grocery store has traveled is well over 2000 miles. With us, the vegetables travel less than 40 miles from our farm to your table.
- Other negatives?
- This might be a positive for some, but you will be receiving a number of vegetables that you aren’t accustomed to eating. We provide the vegetable and post recipes on our webpage but cooking and eating them is up to you.
- We have several different prices depending on the number of people you are feeding. You pay once in the spring and you receive vegetables all season long.
The Peck. A one person cooking alone vegetable share $540
The Bunch. The two person cooking together vegetable share $760
The Bushel A four person household $1520
Full payment for the share is due by April unless another arrangement is worked out in advance between the farmer and the shareholder. Additionally, in the past, we have worked out a time payment plan which, as you suspect, costs slightly more.
Remember though, since people have widely differing eating habits, the share sizes are still estimates and do not fit all. (One example of a difference is between a vegetarian who cooks at home every night compared to omnivore that tends to go out and eat at restaurants three or four nights a week.)
What we strive to do with the size of the shares if give you a good value of fresh, local, chemical free vegetables for the money..
- Fruit Share
- $110*/115 for 8-12 pieces of fruit each week for about 15 weeks.
We planted 100 fruit trees four years ago however they are not yet in full production. The fruit in the fruit shares until then come from orchards in Rappahannock County. The fruit we buy is not chemical free but we try to buy from orchards that use minimal amounts of chemicals. We have also just begun discussions with a berry grower (black berries and raspberries) in Loudoun County.
The Fruit share will be $110*/115 for 8-12 pieces of fruit each week from the beginning of fruit production (the middle of July) until the end of our vegetable shares. Usually fifteen weeks. If we add berries to the fruit share they will be added on a equal price basis.
Be aware that local fruit in Virginia means, from September through October, apples. Our fruit subscribers, besides eating peaches, nectarines, pears and plums in July and August, sample over a dozen different types of apples. If you don’t like (and I’m not talking about those things you get in the grocery store, but I mean real, fresh, local, non commercial – don’t sign up for this share. In 2008, besides the standard Delicious, Granny Smith and Golden, we ate Ozark Black, Ida Red, Larry, York, Empire, Lodi, Summer Mac, Gala, Winesap, Macintosh, Rome, Jonagold and several I can’t recall.
- Egg Share
- During the vegetable delivery season, chickens willing
half a dozen eggs per week. During the non delivery part of the year
if you come out to the farm you can take home with you as many eggs
and you can eat or use in cooking – supply willing. $80*/85
* this is our cash or check one payment discount price. (Sign up
and pay the total price now). The second price is our regular price
which is for people who use their credit cards or if they take
advantage of our pay half to reserve their share and the other half
before the delivery season begins in June.
- Where Do I Pick Up My Share?
- See Delivery schedule for a complete listing of our drop-off locations.
- How Long Do I Get Vegetables?
- Deliveries run 19 weeks. Beginning the first full week of June and
ending in mid-October around the time the first frost traditionally
occurs. Besides having vegetables delivered, our subscribers can also
come to the farm before the deliveries begin in May and get early
greens and they can again come after our deliveries stop in October
and help glean our fields. Basically, though, you get each vegetable
while they are locally in season.
- Can I order for just part of the year?
- Our season goes from the second week of June until mid-October. W do not have subscriptions for part seasons (say, for just August). You can always check, though, and see if there is an open subscription. In Washington, DC people are always moving, and sometimes with little notice.
- A subscription program is a commitment for the entire year. The tomatoes that are ripe in August were started in the greenhouse in March. This means that we plan and work to grow a specific amount of vegetables months before the vegetables are eaten. If you subscribe in April but find out in July you are moving, your vegetables are still out in the field growing.
So, if for some reason you subscribe and find that you can not pick up your vegetables for the entire season, it is your responsibility to find someone to take over the remainder of your share. Often people contact us hoping to get a share that has come open. If that happens we can put you in contact with this person but finding someone to take your share and pay you for the remainder of the season is your responsibility.
- What if I can’t pick up my vegetables that week?
- I am on vacation, or have a business trip and I miss my vegetables? This is a good question. People ask, well, can I just double up on vegetables the next week? The short answer is, no. The reason is, first, the week you missed, your vegetables are still there and the next week there aren’t extra vegetables. We grow a certain amount of shares for each week all season long. And anyway, if you are getting a two person share, if you doubled up one week you would get more vegetables than you could eat and they would go to waste. What we recommend is if you are going away, have a neighbor or friend come and get your vegetables. That way the vegetables won’t go to waste and your neighbor will appreciate it.
- Previous Year’s vegetables?
- To get an idea of what you will get each week here is a list of the vegetables delivered each week:
- 2013 season
- 2011 season
- Does the weather affect the vegetables I get?
- Yes. A prime example was the 2009 season. Starting mid-April it began to rain, and rain and rain. For the next 60 days we had 45 days of rain. Cold, cloudy, rainy days. Besides making it extremely difficult to plant crops (and often the seeds we did plant would be washed away or because of the cold, wet soil, fail to germinate). For a while in 2009 it looked like we weren’t going to have any vegetables. Then, 60 days after the rains started it stopped and for the next two months there was no rain. Drought.What happened to us happened to vegetable farms all along the mid-Atlantic. The end result was crops ripening one to two months later than normal. Our shareholders ended up receiving an above average amount of vegetables however they received the vegetables 3-6 weeks later than normally expected. In farming unlike other enterprises, there are many things outside of human control. Rain, temperature, insects, animals, hail, snow and probably a thousand other variables have affected farming since the first humans began to plant seeds. And, despite visionary worlds created by bad science fiction writers, these variables will probably continue to affect the outcome of each growing season. With a subscription vegetable program you are, to a degree, gambling. When
the growing conditions are good, you receive more vegetables, when unforeseen conditions occur (like an early frost) you receive less vegetables.That said, we are experienced farmers that strive to minimize the affect these variables have on your vegetables. Our fields are irrigated, (this year we are installing two more 3000 gallon water tanks to store irrigation water).
- What questions should I ask when choosing a CSA?
- All CSA’s are not equal. The length of the season, variety of vegetables, size of share, price. These are some of the comparisons that come right off the top. We also think that there are others, more important, ways of judging CSA’s.
First, you want a CSA that works. Do they actually succeed in growing what they plan to grow? With the vagaries of farming there always will be differences from one year to the next however there are variablies that you can research.
Ask about the experience of the grower. How many years have they been working at the same farm? An experienced farmer is more likely to produce than someone who is new at the business.
Is the farmer the owner? A farmer/owner program is more likely to be consistent from one year to the next. With some CSAs, the farmer is a salaried employee. In this business, salaried farmers come and salaried farmers go. Meaning – the program changes from year to year. Some years, it will be well run, other years nothing works. You want a CSA with an experienced farmer who has a continuing committment to the farm.
Also, ask whether the farm also sells to market. Farms that sell to market and have a CSA have split allegences. Not only do they grow vegetables for their subscribers but they go to market and sell their best produce. This, in our view, penalizes the CSA customers. The farmer is under pressure to grow vegetables that sell at market as well as taking the best vegetables and selling at the market where they receive more money. The CSA shareholder of a farm that also sells to market, we believe, tends to get less variety and poorer quality vegetables than a CSA shareholder of a strictly CSA farm.
Finally, when in doubt, get references. Ask to hear from customers from previous years.
- What if I sign up, and start getting vegetables and decide that I don’t like being a member of a CSA or particularly Bull Run Mountain CSA?
- We usually have around 500 shareholders and generally between 5 and 10 people sign up and get several weeks, or even a month into the season and realize that they absolutely hate CSAs, our CSA, us, or both.
What if I’m one of those people? Can I decide after signing up for the program, get vegetables for several weeks and then decide, for whatever reason, that you want to quit and get a refund?
The cure for this is prevention. My new strategy is to encourage people to read this section where I try to give them as much objective information as I can about what to expect. If, however, that doesn’t work. If you have signed up and found out you don’t want to be a member, look at the refund section.
Why are some people unhappy being members of a CSA? There are a number of reasons but mostly from my experience they are due to unrealistic, or faulty expectations.
Everyone new to CSAs should read this carefully.
- What should I expect from a CSA?
- This is an important question and a lot of people join up without knowing what they are joining. First, a CSA is not like your traditional store. With a CSA you are not buying a specific product but a share of the harvest. If we have less vegetables than we hoped, we divide the harvest so we all have less. If we have more, the farmer doesn’t go out and sell the excess on the market but he/she gives it as a bonus to the shareholders.
Another point is that with our CSA you aren’t just buying the vegetables but you are joining a farm and a farm experience.
While we have members who have been with us for over a decade and never have been to the farm we have others that come out at every opportunity. With a CSA, unlike other ways of getting vegetables, this is your farm. Its your farm in the context that these are your vegetables. You are invited to come out and see them grow, to help out, to be an active member of being part of the food raising process. You are not buying just a set amount of vegetables you are buying in on a season’s crop.
- What is it, Vegetable wise, that a CSA does well?
- Our vegetables are fresher than any you can get outside of growing them in your back yard. Most of the share was picked the morning of the day you get it (hardy vegetables and herbs like potatoes and garlic might be held for several weeks).
Our vegetables are poison free. We do not use poisons on our vegetables or soil. No chemical insecticides or fungicides or herbicides are applied to our land. Here its more than an abstract label. You can come out to the farm and see your vegetables and help plant them. You can be part of the process and see exactly what goes in to raising your food.
Our vegetables are local. We are more than anything else a local vegetable farm. Put an accent on the words ‘local vegetables’. Look over the ‘when do I get which vegetables?’ page. This information comes from vegetable resource literature. This is what research and experience tells us what can be harvested in this area when. This is our fifteenth year of experience. If it can be grown here, on our soil, we will usually be able to do it.
- What is it that a grocery market does better (and a CSA doesn’t compete at)?
- A CSA never has vegetables that are out of season. You don’t get vegetables from us that are not locally ripe. When you go to a grocery store the fact that a vegetable might or might not be locally ripe is really beside the point. Look at the chart of when vegetable ripen in this area. If the vegetable you want is not ripe in June you will not get it. Are vegetables aren’t shipped from across the country or around the world so you can have a vegetable to eat that isn’t locally grown.
Local climate and growing conditions effect what you get. With a grocery store and an international food system if a local area is suffering a drought or a flood and the local vegetables are being hurt, there is always somewhere the store’s buyer can get the vegetables.
We don’t spend a lot of time ‘presenting’ our vegetables. The vegetables you get in your share are fresh. We don’t spent time making them appear so. Our shareholders are expected to wash their vegetables.
While our vegetables are wholesome, tasty and poison free, they might not always be spotless. We don’t use chemical poisons. Insects have walked on our vegetables. There might be a hole in our lettuce or a blemish on a squash but it is still good and tasty and chemical free. People that are upset about an insect bite that hasn’t damaged the vegetable are really looking for vegetables that have been sprayed with poisons that have killed all of the insects, both good and bad.
Also, with a CSA you are, just like a farmer, taking a gamble. Each season when growing vegetables is in a sense a bet. No matter how good you are some years you win, some years you really win and some years you lose. With a CSA you are gambling along with the farmer. Good years you get a lot of vegetables, bad years less vegetables. This doesn’t happen in a grocery store because you are buying in several middlemen beyond the farmer. The buyer for the grocery store is buying vegetables that have come from all over the world with many different growing conditions and climates and seasons, so everything is always ripe and everything is always available.
- Will joining a CSA change your life?
- There was a graduate school study conducted a few years back that tried to identify why people signed up for a CSA but were not happy with their experience. The study found several universals about people who were unhappy with their CSA membership.
1. Many people joined a CSA thinking it was going to change their life at least where eating vegetables were concerned. They thought if they joined a CSA they would start eating more vegetables and soon discovered that instead of eating, in season vegetables, they were throwing out in season vegetables
2. Many people thought by joining a CSA they would start cooking vegetables. The same answer as number one. A CSA by itself is not going to change people’s life.
The conclusion of the study? Think before you join a CSA. Are your expectations reasonable? Ask yourself, what are your expectations from joining a CSA? As much as I like to sell my vegetables a CSA is a long term relationship between shareholders and farmers. By joining our CSA I will do my best to provide the vegetables I say I will try to grow. I will work go make this, your farm. A place where you can bring your children, or yourself, and see your vegetables growing. To be closer to the process of your food growing and to the natural world. And I will do my best to grow good, tasty, healthy vegetables.
- How do I subscribe?
- See How to reserve a share for information on how to subscribe.
- Are the vegetables organic?
- This, you might not realize, is a loaded question, so before giving you the long answer, here’s our short answer:
We do not use chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides. We take care of our land in a sustainable manner. We pay our help a liveable wage. We do not knowingly use and to the best of our knowledge we do not use genetically modified seeds (sometimes it is very difficult to know for sure because seed companies aren’t always forthcoming with this information). The majority of our vegetables are grown on our farm. Occasonally we suppliment our vegetables with those of other local farmers who adhere to our philosophy of growing sustainably and chemical free. We are open with our shareholders about the nature of what they are getting. Our vegetables are local.
The longer answer: The word ‘Organic’ has gone through a considerable amount of evolution over the last two decades from a loose term implying chemical free to one defined by private certifiers until several years ago when it became a legal term with constantly changing regulations and an enforcement regime that defined it. See “USDA Certified Organic” To certify or not to certify ‘USDA organic’ for our longer answer.
- CSA Reviews
- There are several places you can go to and find what other people experienced from their CSA’s. The two I know of are Local Harvest and Yelp. Since we’ve been around longer we probably have more reviews than you average CSA.Most of our reviews are good, tending to be very good. However we do have several bad reviews all of them clustered around the bad weather year of 2009 (look at ‘Does the weather affect the vegetables I get?) Several of these reviewers got upset and quit our CSA before the month of June had drawn to an end. Two of the names attached to reviews I can not match with members of our CSA. That said, 2009 was a bad farming year.And for full discloser there is one other year that predates online reviews where we would have had bad reviews if they could have been posted. This was the year I suffered from something similar to lyme disease and it was all I could do to get out of bed every morning, let alone walk out into the fields and tend our vegetables. Somehow we got through that year without my collapsing in the fields and sometime the following winter I woke up one morning and like that, whatever had been bothering me was gone.