Buying a Share of the Harvest

If you want fresh vegetables, grown with organic methods, and like the idea of being as close to the farming of them as possible, the C.S.A. model may be for you
Amanda Merrow and Adrienne Nelson are readying the greenhouses to start vegetable seedling at Amber Waves, which employs a community-supported agriculture model. Amber Waves

For centuries, residents of the East End have been farming their land and providing their neighbors with fresh produce. And for decades, this exchange of goods was done at a farm stand, as simple or elaborate as the vision of its owner-operators.

Beginning more recently with the advent of weekly farmers markets held in most village or hamlet centers and Quail Hill Farm’s early adoption of the community-supported agriculture model or C.S.A. in 1990, farmers have become more inventive in their distribution. Joining Quail Hill in the past few years in offering limited shares in their agricultural produce are Balsam Farms and Amber Waves, also in Amagansett.

Here’s the thing, if you want fresh vegetables, grown with organic methods, and like the idea of being as close to the farming of them as possible, the C.S.A. model may be for you. The catch is, you need to decide now. Most C.S.A.s have set Wednesday as a deadline for the first payment. Money that they raise now will defray the costs of the seeds and planting them until they are up and running.

Quail Hill, overseen by the Peconic Land Trust, remains a top choice, particularly for people who don’t mind getting their hands dirty. Quail Hill wants its seasonal shareholders out in the fields picking their own produce, which includes a wide variety of vegetables, flowers, and herbs. A handbook and online tip sheet for harvesting are intended to help. Summer shares for families are $915 and $470 for individuals, and harvest days are from early June through October. There are slight discounts for paying in full and using a check instead of a credit card.

This season, Quail Hill now offers a “box share” for families and individuals, prepared by the farmers and available for pickup, it is for those unable to harvest in the field and does not include the flowers or herbs that members are allowed to gather as part of their shares. Box shares must be paid in full at the time of sign-up, $720 for families and $360 for individuals, with a small discount for those using checks as payment. Unique to Quail Hill is a winter share, which is offered after the regular season ends and goes through March.

Amber Waves Farm is now in its seventh year and offers both boxes and “you-pick” options. Weekly pickup times are offered at the Amagansett farm and off-site at locations in Sag Harbor and Montauk. Those who choose off-site pickup can still visit the farm daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to pick flowers and herbs and visit the animals.

In addition to vegetables, Amber Waves C.S.A. members may opt to add weekly choices of Carissa’s Breads, Briermere Farm fruit, and locally made cheese. The farm’s full season share (from late May to Columbus Day, or 20 weeks) is $875. A 15-week summer share is $750. Adding bread to the shares will cost $180 for 20 weeks and $140 for 15 weeks. A 16-week fruit share costs $240; an 11-week share is $165, and includes strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, peaches, plums, apples, and pears. The fruit is not organic, but is minimally sprayed. A cheese share is $250 for 20 weeks and $190 for 15 weeks and features three styles of cheese from Mecox Bay Dairy and fresh mozzarella from Villa Italian Specialties.

An early season box from Amber Waves has included various lettuces, potted herbs, green garlic, pea shoots, radishes, and sprouts. The vegetables are listed the week of pickup on the farm’s website with suggestions on how to use the produce and some recipes. A high-season box offers the standard farm stand fare of tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, summer squashes, peppers, lettuces, herbs, and more. The last box of last year had winter squashes, kale and other hardy greens, carrots, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, cabbage, and red and cayenne peppers.

Balsam Farms offers an a la carte vegetable-based package with similar add-ons to Amber Waves, making the packages even more customizable with a friendlier price point. According to Ian Calder-Piedmonte, who manages the share program, the farm’s produce is not certified organic, but Balsam Farms only uses material approved for organic production with the exception of the corn, which is grown in fields separate from the rest of the plants from seed that is not genetically modified. Balsam Farms harvests the produce for its C.S.A. members.

Its add-ons include Carissa’s Bread, Briermere and Milk Pail fruit, a Villa mozzarella share, and a flower share. Pickup takes place on Fridays or Saturdays at the Town Lane, Amagansett, farm stand. The vegetables are grown in several fields on the South Fork. Shares are for 15, 19, 23, or 26 weeks, and range from $475 to $825 before add-ons. The flower shares start at $132; the fruit and cheese shares at $165 each. A bread share starts at $120. The first shares are available on May 29, with a season lasting until Sept. 4, Oct. 2, Oct. 30, or Nov. 20, depending on the length chosen.

Last year and the year before, Dock to Dish offered shares in a community-supported fisheries program, with members getting freshly caught, direct-from-the-fisherman, filleted seafood packages each week, along with ideas to prepare it. The people behind the program took it down to Key West this winter and planned to come back to Montauk this season. Alas, that may not happen. Sean Barrett, one of the company’s principals, injured his back last season and has not been cleared to do the physical work necessary to keep the venture going. He said via email at press time that he and his partners were “scrambling to come up with some solutions” to offer the plan this year. He said they hoped to have a strategy soon and would announce it when it is confirmed.

Sign-up forms and complete information, including sample boxes and recipes, can be found on each of the organizations’ websites.

A lettuce harvester surveyed the fields at Quail Hill in Amagansett. Durell Godfrey