The Dish: Where Does Your Food Come From?

by Editorial

As more people begin to understand the importance of eating local, many people are turning to Community Supported Agriculture programs, or CSAs, for their weekly produce.

by Kate Morin

Purple Kohlrabi and White Turnips from Radix Farm in Upper Marlboro, MD (Photo courtesy of

Purple Kohlrabi and Hakurei Turnips from Radix Farm in Upper Marlboro, Md (Photo courtesy of

Look at your dinner plate. Most likely, your salad flew in from Mexico or California, that chicken spent its early days cooped up in Arkansas, and your rice has made a 7,000 mile journey from Asia. While some of these products are harder to produce closer to home, Americans are finally starting to understand that much of the food we eat can easily be grown in our own backyards – or at least closer to them. For decades, local farmers have been growing produce, raising animals, and even keeping honey bees. The problem? We haven’t been taking advantage of these local resources. And more often than not, the most sensible way to eat is right around the corner.

While “greenwashing” has had customers flocking to Whole Foods and local farmers markets for more eco-friendly goods, many people are beginning to turn to Community Supported Agriculture programs, or CSAs, for their produce — and sometimes even more of their weekly crop. CSAs are made up of the farmer (or farmers) who grow the produce and customers who prepay for a season’s worth of produce. The farmer uses the money from the shares, which are paid in advance, to fund a harvest without relying on loans. In return, members receive a weekly basket of produce for the length of the harvest – usually between 15 and 22 weeks. The idea is that the members of the CSA and the farmer share the risks of poor harvests (which are inevitable) and mutually benefit from a fruitful one. Selling the product directly to community members ensures that growers earn better prices for their crops, gain some financial security, and relieve themselves from the burden of marketing during the growing season. By directly connecting customers with the people who grow and produce their food, CSA cuts out the middleman while also allowing for better quality and freshness. Also of interest to many urbanites is that many CSAs give customers the opportunity to visit the farm for a day (or more) to work the fields. City slickers are able to get a true sense of where their food comes from and the work that goes into getting it on their tables.

“CSA allows for fresh, more nutritious food,” says Claudia Nami of Dragonfly Farms in Mount Airy, Md. “The nutrition in the food we eat is really important, and local, naturally grown food is truly more nutritious – It’s real food.”

Want more than just produce from your local farm? Many CSAs bring together products from a group of farms and businesses to provide customers with a wide array of products from eggs, milk, and meat to bread, cheese, and honey. Typically, a “full share” will feed a family of two adults and two children, or two adult vegetarians. If you think a full share might be too much food for you every week, some farms offer half shares at a reduced price. Kristin Carbone of Radix Farm in Upper Marlboro, Md, suggests that if you feel a full share is too much, find a friend or two to split it with each week.

Before you go rushing to join one of the many CSAs that serve the D.C. area (check out our list below), there are a few things you should consider. “Before joining, you really need to think about your eating habits,” says Carbone. “You should be willing to be creative to use up your share.” Also, be sure you’re ready to embrace the lifestyle that comes along with CSA life. “It’s truly a lifestyle,” says Nami. “It’s not like the grocery store mentality. You get everything at once, once a week, and it takes commitment to use it up.”

What to consider before joining a CSA? You should like to cook regularly, be open to trying a lot of new vegetables (and eating a lot of them), and be able to deal with the sometimes unpredictable nature of the system. Realize the risk involved in farming. If not getting your money’s worth makes you nervous, think about alternatives to joining a CSA, like finding a local farmers market you know and trust and form relationships with the farmers there.

However, also consider the benefits. Chef Dale Hawkins of Fish Hawk Acres CSA in Rock Cave, W.Va. (a CSA that ships it’s weekly boxes via FedEx ground to locales all around West Virginia), says the two biggest benefits of joining a CSA are supporting your local community and economy and getting healthier, fresher ingredients. “Between harvesting, washing, packaging, and shipping, most of the produce in grocery stores is two to three weeks old by the time we purchase it,” he says.

The overall message? Know where your food comes from, and how it is produced.

CSAs Serving the Washington Area:

Orchard Country Produce Farm (95 miles from DC)
Location: Gardeners, Pa.
Cost: Full Share: $260/7 weeks. 3, 7wk. Terms through the season. Half Share: $160/7 weeks. 3, 7wk. Terms through the season.
Pick-up Points: Department of Transportation and Westminster Farmers Market, DC; Gaithersburg, Bethesda, and Colombia, Md.
For More Information:

Dragonfly Farms (43 miles from DC)
Location: Mount Airy, Md.
Cost: Ranging from $495-$2690 depending on season/share.
Pick-up Points: Capitol Hill, Foggy Bottom, and N.W., DC; Bethesda, Colombia, Mount Airy, and Germantown, Md.; Arlington, Falls Church, Great Falls, and Vienna, Va.
For More Information:

Jug Bay Market Garden (18.5 miles from DC)
Location: Upper Marlboro, Md.
Cost: $630 (farm pickup), $730 (Capitol Hill puckup)/ 20-22 weeks
Pick-up Points: Capitol Hill, DC; Upper Marlboro, Md.
For More Information: or

Radix Farm (18.5 miles from DC)
Location: Upper Marlboro, Md.
Cost: $625/ 22 weeks
Pick-up Points: Mt. Pleasant and Capitol Hill, DC
For More Information: or

Carrollton Manor Farm/ Big White Barn Produce (47 miles from DC)
Location: Frederick, Md.
Cost: Full Share: $550/ 22 weeks. Half Share: $275/11 weeks, delivery every other week
Pick-up Points: Foggy Bottom and Penn Quarter, DC; Baltimore, Cockeysville, Urbana, and Frederick, Md.
For More Information:

Bull Run Mountain Farm (47 miles from DC)
Location: The Plains, Va.
Cost: Full Share: $560/season. Half Share: $420/season
Pick-up Points: Cleveland Park and Dupont, DC; Alexandria, Arlington/Falls Church, and Manassas, Va.
For More Information:

Clagett Farm (18.5 miles from DC)
Location: Upper Marlboro, Md.
Cost: $490/year, farm pickup. $550/year, Dupont circle pickup. $50 new member fee
Pick-up Points: Dupont, DC; Upper Marlboro, Md.
For More Information: or

Blue Morning CSA (70 miles from DC)
Location: Sheperdstown, W.Va.
Cost: $485/ 20 weeks. $595/30 weeks
Pick-up Points: Sheperdstown and Charles Town, W.Va.; Silver Spring, Md.
For More Information:

A Fresh and Local CSA (70 miles from DC)

Location: Sheperdstown, W.Va.
Cost: $600/season with delivery to Metro DC
Pick-up Points: N.W. Neighborhood and Tenleytown, DC; Arlington,Va.; Bethesda and Silver Spring, Md.; Sheperdstown, W.Va.
For More Information:

Fish Hawk Acres (234 miles from DC)
Location: Rock Cave, W.Va.
Pick-up Points: Home Delivery
For More Information: Contact Dale Hawkins at


5 a Day CSA
Location: Md
Cost: 7 items/$25/week or 9 items/$40/week
For More Information:

CSA shares at Blue Morning CSA in Sheperdstown, WV (Photo courtesy of

CSA shares at Blue Morning CSA in Sheperdstown, W.Va. (Photo courtesy of

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