Strawberries from Brad's Produce in Churchville

Strawberries from Brad's Produce in Churchville (Matt Roth / Patuxent Publishing / May 5, 2010)

While it might be tough to imagine heading out to a local farm for an armful of fresh vegetables when it’s still chilly, it’s almost that time of year. Harford County farms are gearing up for growing season, and that means it’s time to sign up for a Community Supported Agriculture program.

CSAs, if you don’t know, are programs run by (usually) small farms that allow nearby residents to buy a share of their growing season crops. The result: An upfront fee gets you a weekly trip to the farm for a load of produce from about May through October or even November.

Tom Paduano, a farmer at Flying Plow Farm in Joppa, says hosting a CSA allows farmers to get income before the growing season starts, freeing time for them to focus more on planting and harvesting and less on making market sales. The members, in turn, get a season’s worth of fresh produce.

Paula Harman, who owns Harman’s Farm Market in Churchville with her husband, says CSA members are getting the very freshest fruits and vegetables possible. “It’s not shipped across the country,” Harman says. “We pick them ripe, whereas what you buy at the grocery store has usually been picked early and ripened on its trip.”

As well, because of farms’ typically diverse crops, you’re often getting to experience and try new foods.

“Maybe you haven’t eaten Swiss chard or butternut squash,” she says. “It makes me go out of my comfort zone and branch out. It’s like when you join a gym and pay up front -- it makes you feel like you have to use it.”

Paduano agreed, adding that being a part of a CSA is also about the experience.

“It’s more than an exchange of money for vegetables,” he says. “You’re investing in our farm, and you get to come to the farm and experience it weekly. You get to see how it changes from spring to summer to fall.”

Many CSAs allow members to spend as much time at the farm as they want, often providing a you-pick portion of tomatoes and herbs. Members develop relationships with farmers.

“You’re experiencing a connection to the farm, the farmer, and where your food is coming from,” Paduano says.

Brad’s Produce
550 Asbury Road, Churchville

Season dates: Regular season runs from mid-May to Oct. 24. Early spring share runs from April 18 to May 9. Summer share runs July 11 to Aug. 29. Early spring share register by April 15. Summer share and regular season share register by May 13.

Share price: Regular season, full share: $515. Biweekly share: $300. Weekly half share: $325. Summer share: $225. Early spring share: $115.

Discounts: Register by April 1, regular season, full share: $495. Biweekly share: $290. Weekly half share: $315. Summer share: $200. Register by Feb. 15, early spring share: $100.

What you get: The early spring shares include asparagus, bok choy, spinach, spring mix lettuce, radishes, spring onions and possibly some potted herbs or farm-fresh local eggs. The summer shares include produce from the summer crops, including corn, tomatoes, green peppers, green beans, squash, zucchini, peaches and carrots. Regular season shares include a wide variety of produce from each growing season: spring, summer and fall. Fall produce includes garlic, apples, squash, cauliflower and potatoes.

Add-Ons: Twelve brown free-range eggs, picked up weekly from May 16 to Oct. 24: $90; one-pound loaf of all-natural bread, picked up weekly from May 16 to Oct. 24: $96.
What else the farm sells: Brad’s Produce sells a wide array of flowers, from planters of ivy geraniums to begonia pots, dahlias, marigolds and a range of perennials.

How you get it: Regular season: Pick up your full share at the farm on Thursdays, your biweekly share every other Thursday or your weekly half share on Tuesdays. Early spring share: Pick up every Thursday. Summer share: Pick up every Thursday.

Flying Plow Farm
2009 Old Joppa Road, Joppa

Season dates: Runs from late May to the week before Thanksgiving.

Share price: $700