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May 2013

In February I took a tour of Serenbe Farms south of Atlanta, where farm manager Paige Witherington has created something pretty remarkable. When the first crops were planted at Serenbe in 2004, decades of commodity cotton farming had stripped away the topsoil, draining the ground of valuable nutrients and leaving behind little but inhospitable red clay. Today, though, thanks to a combination of composting, cover cropping (growing grasses and legumes on fallow acres to enrich the soil), and crop rotation, Witherington and her team at Serenbe harvest more than 60,000 pounds of produce every year. On just four acres. They’re in the process of reclaiming adjoining acres so they can farm even more.

Here’s one more thing about Serenbe: It’s a USDA-certified organic farm, one of just sixty-seven in the state of Georgia as of last summer, according to Georgia Organics. All together, those farms operate 5,271 certified organic acres. While that represents a mere one-twentieth of one percent of Georgia’s overall agricultural acres, it’s worth recognizing. Being certified organic is more than just promising not to spray chemical insecticide over your crops: It demands a huge commitment of time, as organic farmers must be diligent as bookkeepers in recording harvests, soil health, mulch applications, seed sourcing, you name it.

All of this is one reason we chose Serenbe as one of the five CSAs we subscribed to last summer. Just six years ago, there were a mere twenty-five farms in all of Georgia that offered CSAs, which basically permit subscribers a portion of a farm’s harvest. Last year, the number of farms offering them had jumped to 174, with literally thousands of subscribers. A few years ago if you’d asked me what CSA stood for, I would have said, duh, Confederate States of America. I’d say it’s a good thing that the initials now represent something else in most people’s minds: the promise of fresh produce—and sometimes meat and dairy—direct from a local farm.

So though our sampling of five CSAs isn’t meant to be exhaustive, it’ll give you a good idea of how they work. Want to be surprised every week with vegetables you may not even be able to identify? There’s a CSA for you. Want to pick out your own produce? There’s a CSA for you. While one may operate a bit differently from the next, they all embody the true meaning of farm-to-table, a phrase that in recent years has been rendered practically meaningless from abuse and overuse. Besides, who can argue with good food?