How to Buy Local & Get Healthy

By Sarah Skidmore, AP Food Industry Writer

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Whether you have a New Year's resolution to eat healthier or you simply want to buy more of your food fresh and locally, you may want to consider joining a community-supported agriculture program.

In CSAs, members pay a farm a regular fee in exchange for a weekly share of what's harvested.

They're an increasingly popular way for consumers to get fresh, local produce and strengthen their ties to where their food comes from. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates more than 12,500 farms nationwide have marketed products through such arrangements.

And they help farmers steady their cash flow and expand their customer base. Plus, participants say you can't beat the flavors.

"One of the things people are very surprised by is the taste of good, fresh food," said Christine Mayer, program manager for sustainable living at Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pa. "A homegrown carrot tastes nothing like the thing you get at the grocery store."

Here are a few tips on joining:

YOUR ROLE: CSA members typically pick up their produce at the farm, a farmers market or another designated site. Some CSAs even deliver.

The majority include some community involvement, such as a day each year when members can visit or a group potluck. Some CSAs encourage members to lend a hand on the farm; a small number require it so make sure you're comfortable with what yours requires.

WHAT YOU GET: Your share, typically a box of goods, is usually just produce. Some farms may include flowers, eggs or other products. The farm will tell you what a typical shipment includes before you sign up.

Some farms allow members to personalize their box — increasing or shrinking the proportion of salad greens, for instance. Others let members come to the farm to select only the items they want so less goes to waste.

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