A share of the crop

Subscribers to CSAs never know what will be in their weekly package — but they know it will be fresh.

07/30/2011 12:00 AM

08/05/2014 5:04 PM

Every Wednesday is a little like Christmas at the Johnston home in Andover. That's the day the family receives its weekly goodie bag of produce from the Home Grown Kansas farm in Wichita.

The Johnstons are among the 47 subscribers to the CSA — community supported agriculture — run by Home Grown Kansas. For a subscription fee, the members receive a share of what's ripe for picking on the farm each week of the growing season.

And this year has brought "some pretty unusual things that I've never had or heard of," said Amanda Johnston, who decided to plant only peppers and tomatoes in her own vegetable garden this year.

It was a good summer to skip — the plants she does have are "living but not producing," she said.

Meanwhile, Elzie and Pat Randleas, the farmers who run the CSA and also the Old Town and Andover farmers markets, are doing the sweaty work for their subscribers and rounding out their offerings by tucking fruits and vegetables from other farmers into their bags.

Among the goodies that rolled out this week on the Johnston kitchen counter: red and gold potatoes, a head of garlic, a bag of okra, a bunch of parsley, two cucumbers, two red onions, a fennel bulb, four cobs of corn, two hydroponic tomatoes and a watermelon.

While CSAs are numerous in some parts of the country, they're a fairly new concept in others, including Wichita. Three CSAs deliver in Wichita. And they're all different.

* Home Grown Kansas (www.homegrownkansas.com) is a traditional CSA that provides naturally grown produce that's fresh each week of the growing season, supplemented with food grown by other farmers to round it out.

Customers pay about $24 a week for an average 10 pounds of produce for 24 weeks ($575 total). Customers pick up the food at either the Andover or Old Town farmers market.

* Morning Harvest Farm (www.morningharvestfarm.com) in Walton — between Peabody and Newton — offers a flexible CSA that charges $400 up-front but then allows subscribers to choose how to spend their credits, year-round, and the credits never expire.

Customers receive a list of what's available each week, and they place an order accordingly. If everybody wants the same thing — say, tomatoes — one week, owners Eric and Paula Sims divide up the produce so everybody gets some, but not necessarily as much as they want.

Customers pick up the food at GreenAcres Market at 21st and Rock Road. When the garden is frying, as it is now, or in the winter, customers are able to use their credits on the farm's eggs, poultry, beef, fish and, when owner Paula Sims is baking, artisan bread.

"We're in our second year. We really like it," she said. "We get good feedback from our customers. They like the flexibility. Last summer we had a gal go on vacation three or four times. She loved it. We don't have that June-to-October season."

* Schenker Family Farms in McCune (www.schenkerfarms.com) is a year-round CSA that offers meat only. Customers decide what kinds of meat — beef, pork, lamb, chicken — and how much they want from week to week. The fifth-generation farm is animal-welfare approved and certified naturally grown. There are no added nitrites or nitrates in the ham and bacon. The animals are grass-fed.

"It's a good way to get the savings of buying half a cow without having to buy half a cow," says Cherie Schenker, who owns the farm with her husband, Kevin.

The Schenkers deliver the meat to the Old Town Farmers Market and expect to soon offer home delivery.

The only problem for people who are interested in CSAs but don't already subscribe: The current CSAs are pretty much full, though they keep waiting lists, as subscribers come and go.

"Here, lots of people are not familiar with it, so there's lots of potential" for new CSAs to crop up, extension agent Rebecca McMahon said. She said the fact that the area CSAs are full without really marketing themselves is another testament to the potential interest.

"Theoretically it's more convenient than going to the farmers market but potentially less convenient" in that you never know for sure what you'll get, McMahon said.

The Randleas started offering a CSA 10 years ago, then took four or five years off. This is their second year back at it.

"I get notes from our subscribers about how they've eaten a greater variety and like more than they thought they would," Pat Randleas said. "I think some people don't repeat because they realize they don't really want to eat that many vegetables. I feel like people are making good use of the produce, which is fun."

Johnston has been having fun with her share.

"I would highly recommend" the CSA, she said. "For us it's been an experience. Things I didn't know how to cook now I'm familiar with, and my kids are familiar with. Things they never tried before they had a chance to."

Perhaps the most exotic ingredient has been the Chinese long beans.

"They were very interesting looking. They're very, very long and a purplish color. We were pleasantly surprised with those. Every week they send us an e-mail that has an update with what the farm's been doing and what we'll have in our bag, and if they're things we don't know what to do with they'll have recipes."

Johnston used one of the recipes to make Glazed Chinese Long Beans.

"It was really good. I was really surprised," she said.

Johnston deals with the produce as soon as her husband, Matt, brings it home from the Andover market on his way home from work on Wednesday evenings.

"I'll lay it out and get it prepped, get it washed, cut up and bagged."

The Randleas also tell their subscribers how to preserve their produce, including dicing and freezing potatoes, so that nothing goes to waste.

And this week they started planting their fall vegetable garden.

"That's what we're looking forward to — getting back to the lettuces and that kind of stuff," Pat Randleas said.

About Annie Calovich

Annie writes about home and garden, including her Bit of Earth column on Saturdays. She has been at The Eagle since 1985, working as a copy editor, a nation/world editor and a reporter. She’s a KU graduate who started out at The Coffeyville Journal.

Contact Annie at 316-268-6596 or acalovich@wichitaeagle.com

Follow Annie on Twitter: @AnnieCalovich

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