CSAs fill your kitchen with healthful and local fruits, veggies, and herbs.
Credit: Randy Mayor

For cooks who want a direct connection to their food and the farmers who grow it, a burgeoning number of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms are filling the niche.

The movement started with just one farm in 1984, but today about 1,500 CSA farms can be found in all 50 states. Subscribers pay a fee to help finance the farmer's costs. In return, the farmer supplies members with two to three grocery bags of locally grown fruits and vegetables per week, containing everything from ripe tomatoes to the occasional bunch of Chioggia beets. Typically, members receive an average of 20 weeks of deliveries, from late May through October, for a cost of less than $30 per week-prices that are comparable to those of organic produce. Some CSAs deliver produce to your home; others create neighborhood drop-offs.

Find farmers' markets, family and CSA farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area at www.localharvest.org.

Jill McCoy, who is in her fifth season of membership at Live Earth Farms CSA in San Jose, California, admits that using a full produce delivery each week can pose a challenge. Still, it's one she and her husband, Mike, relish. "We eat out a lot less during the growing season because we have all this great produce in the refrigerator," McCoy says. And they eat more healthfully, too.

The trick is to develop a system for enjoying the produce before it spoils, says Bob Bower, growing manager at Angelic Farms, one of the largest and longest-running CSAs in the country, near Chicago. He recommends using leafy greens, lettuces, and herbs first since they are more delicate, and saving heartier vegetables like carrots, onions, and squash for later in the week. He also suggests you consider preserving the harvest, and either dry fresh herbs and tomatoes or can and freeze any vegetables you can't use. "That way, you can enjoy a taste of summer even when the season has passed," he says.