Pay Your Farmer Now, Enjoy the Bounty All Summer

“Producer and consumer are joined in a mutual support system"
Long before harvesting begins, local community supported agricultural programs use prepaid memberships to pay for seeds and other planting expenses at places like Balsam Farms. Durell Godfrey Photos

For those who care about stocking the refrigerator with the freshest produce on the East End, March is the month to begin signing up for membership in a community supported agriculture program, or C.S.A. 

A C.S.A. member prepays a farm for a share of its future yield and gets a weekly supply of fresh produce during the harvest season, usually beginning in June. C.S.A.s eliminate the middleman, putting consumers in direct contact with growers. “Producer and consumer are joined in a mutual support system,” explained Scott Chaskey of the Peconic Land Trust’s Quail Hill Farm in Amagansett. A C.S.A. “builds and sustains local relationships between people and local soils and local economies and the local ecosystem,” he said. “Why not enjoy food with a name and a place and a face?”

Ian Calder-Piedmonte of Balsam Farms, also in Amagansett, agreed that the benefits go far beyond merely connecting a consumer to fresh produce. His farm’s C.S.A. exposes consumers to the bounty of the East End in a new way. “We include vegetables that are longtime favorites, but we also include lesser known varieties, along with recipes and cooking suggestions so that members know how to use them. It’s a great way for members to experience the many delicious vegetables that thrive on the East End that they might not otherwise think to try.”

By paying up front, C.S.A. members cover many of the early-season costs needed to restart a farming operation. In exchange, Mr. Calder-Pied monte says, “members get vegetables at what amounts to discounted prices throughout the season, along with recipes, varietal information, and other personal touches that bring them closer to their food source.” 

Below are a few of the choices for people interested in joining a C.S.A. this season.  

Amber Waves

Amber Waves farm offers weekly, family-size boxes of organic produce that members can pick up at the farm off Amagansett Main Street or offsite in Montauk or Sag Harbor. Members also have access to “you-pick” areas of the farm where they can harvest flowers and in-season produce including herbs, raspberries, and cherry tomatoes. 

Memberships range in length from 15 weeks for $750 to 26 weeks for $1,050. New this year, members will receive a field guide that includes storage tips, field maps, and a calendar of events. Local bread, cheese, and fruit can be added to the weekly box for additional fees. All shares begin the week of Memorial Day  and continue as late as Thanksgiving, depending on the plan. 

Produce offerings vary, but one sample box from last fall included butternut and kabocha squash, radishes, tomatillos, daikon, Russian and Italian kale, mustard greens, sweet potatoes, eggplant, garlic, and lettuce.  

Balsam Farms

Farmers at Balsam Farms curate a box of fresh vegetables, greens, herbs, and fruit that members pick up weekly from the stand on Town Lane in Amagansett. Memberships range from $500 for a 15-week plan to $860 for 26 weeks. Flowers, cheeses, bread, fruit, and eggs can be added to a share for additional fees. The 26-week plan runs from May through November. 

A share in the last week of July 2015 included corn, lettuce, Sungold tomatoes, celery, cucumbers, Cubanelle peppers, cabbage, bok choy, onions, and kale. 

Bhumi Farms

Bhumi Farms, which also has fields in Amagansett, offers memberships that begin June 7 this year. Members can pick up their weekly boxes of organic produce at the farm stand on Pantigo Road in East Hampton or at the Montauk Farmers Market or the Hayground Farmers Market in Bridgehampton. 

Bhumi might be the best option for the busy foodie because it offers delivery as well. Members who enjoy getting out in the fields can harvest certain vegetables themselves.  

Bhumi lets members customize their box each week online. A default box will be put together when selections are not made. Bhumi also offers add-ons like a fruit share, almond milk, coffee, and prepared vegetarian foods. Memberships range from $300 for a five-week share to $750 for a 13-week share including delivery.

The offerings, according to the Bhumi Farms website, include such things as “carrots of every color, sugar snap peas, striped beets, shelling peas, husked cherries, shishito peppers by the crateful, cherry tomatoes, string beans, cucumbers, tomatoes large and small, red and orange, kales, lettuce, wonderful salad mixes, the juiciest watermelons, herbs for every occasion, sweet potatoes, and fairytale eggplant” among other things. 

Quail Hill

If you are feeling a little more adventurous this summer, Quail Hill Farm, on Side Hill and Deep Lanes in Amagansett, offers a more hands-on experience. Although one type of membership offers a weekly boxed pickup, what sets Quail Hill apart from other C.S.A.s is that members harvest in the fields themselves, twice a week. Farmers post a list of what is available each harvest day and where it’s located on the farm. In the fields, signs let them know how much they can harvest per share and how to pick, cut, or dig it up. 

Quail Hill memberships begin in early June and continue through the end of October. Prices start at $350 for a weekly box pickup for a single member to $950 for a family membership that allows you to harvest produce, herbs, and flowers in the fields. Boxed shares do not include herbs or flowers.

A weekly share in early July 2015 included arugula, bok choy, collards, fava beans, kale, fennel, green beans, lettuce, potatoes, radishes, scallions, spinach, Swiss chard, flowers, and herbs such as chives, cilantro, dill, mint, parsley, rosemary, and thyme.