While Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) groups are hardly a new development, the recent spotlight on "green" and "locavore" movements have helped CSAs soar to new heights of popularity and availability. One of this year's new CSAs on the block, Southside CSA in Brooklyn, has teamed up with Bridget and Bridge Vineyards to pair vegetable and fruit shares from Orange County with New York regional wine shares. We had a chance to catch up with one of the core members of the Southside CSA, Ryan Kuonen, to learn more about the group and its promise to bring fresh food from local fields to Brooklyn kitchens.

Interested? You can sign up Mondays at Bridget, 20 Broadway in Williamsburg, from 6:30 to 8:30pm through April 7th. And don't forget your checkbook and calendar!

How did the Southside CSA get started? The Williamsburg CSA was created back in 1999 as the first low-income CSA in New York City. It was organized by El Puente with the exact purpose of giving the people in South Williamsburg access to fresh, healthy produce. After two years of direct involvement, El Puente stepped back and volunteers from the neighborhood took over the organizational duties. Eventually, as the Williamsburg CSA became more centered around the farmer's market at McCarren Park, the direct connection with the Southside began to fade.

Yolim Khoo and I had joined the Williamsburg CSA back in 2004. After a couple years of involvement, we became inspired to join the core group, and through our volunteer work as the accountant and communication coordinators, we realized the potential of Williamsburg to support lots and lots of farms through multiple CSAs. Both of us live on the Southside, which has a clear lack of fresh produce available, and we wanted to bring a CSA back into this part of the neighborhood. Meanwhile we got hooked up with Mikella Millen and Esther Giangrande through the Greenpoint-Williamsburg CSA's low income fundraising group. That group organized fundraisers at Bridge Urban Wine Bar to benefit the Greenpoint Soup Kitchen. It was during these benefit brunches that we got a chance to discuss sustainable agriculture and our neighborhood, and the Southside CSA was born.

How many programs are there like it in the city? There were around 50 CSA's last year. There are about 18-22 new CSA's starting up this year.

How did you team up with MimoMex Farm? I had worked closely with Just Food during my years in the Greenpoint-Williamsburg CSA core group. Just Food is a NYC non-profit whose goal is to develop a just and sustainable food system in NYC. They are the CSA gurus, running monthly workshops, yearly conferences, and working as general facilitators between local farmers and neighborhood groups. I spoke to Paula from Just Food about our intention to start a CSA once we found a distribution spot and she hooked us up with MimoMex Farm.

csalettuce-distribution1.jpg What kinds of fruits and vegetables will be made available in the upcoming season? MimoMex Farm cultivates over 80 different types and varieties of vegetables, much of which are traditional Mexican ingredients in addition to regional staples. We will be seeing local standards like tomatoes, spinach, eggplant, beets, and sweet corn. However, they mainly grow plants that are standard fare in Mexico but are uncommon in north american grocery stores - things like pipiche, papalo, epazote, and alache. They also specialize in hot peppers and tomatillos. About 70% of the Vegetable share will be ethnic mexican type produce from the farm, which has earned Martín near-celebrity status at farmers’ markets in East Harlem, Jackson Heights and Sunset Park. The fruit will be standard Hudson Valley produce...strawberries, cantaloupe, sugarbaby watermelon, peaches, cherries, plums, apples and pears.

How many meals can one cook with a full share? It all really depends on the vegetable-ness of the meals. In general, it breaks down to be about $20 of veggies per pickup. At the height of the season that translates to around 2 vegetarian meals for 4 people or sides for those same people for around 5 days. Of course, it also depends on individual tastes and cooking styles. I use my vegetable share as a base, supplementing with $10-15 more dollars worth of vegetables from the farmers market in an average week. At the height of the season, I dont really need to supplement but I can never get enough of those heirloom tomatoes and I like to can for the winter so I tend to go overboard with vegetable consumption in August and September.

How did you pick the wineries to work with? We were lucky enough to hook up with veteran vintner Greg Sandor who has been involved in making wine out on Long Island for over 20 years. Together with Paul Wegimont, he brought an outlet of Bridge Urban Winery (now called Bridget) and a dedication to all things local to the Southside. So, suddenly there is a place that cooks with local foods and serves just local wines. For years I had wanted to bring a wine share into the Williamsburg CSA, but because their distribution is in a park, the logistics of alcohol and a public space seemed to cross legal lines. It is nice to live in such a fertile region; NY State is something like the third largest producer of wine in the US. Yet it is rather uncommon to find a New York wine on the menu at most restaurants in the city. Just like with a vegetable share, with a wine share there is a this experience of possibly trying something new and changing your regular eating habits into something more sustainable with a reduced carbon footprint. The wine share is gonna be a great way for people to learn more about a local product.

What are the logistics behind running something like this? Logistically it can be challenging, and rewarding, dealing directly with farmers. The work involved in collecting the money and organizing it to pre purchase six months of groceries for 100 people can be daunting, but it is nothing compared to the skill it takes to grow food. Once you find a farmer, it all falls into place in a very mutually beneficial way.

Has the response been good so far? Great. People are always excited about CSAs. When people think about their health and diet, they gravitate toward discovering community supported agriculture and begin eating local and supporting environmentally conscious farmers. The CSA just has the added bonus of directly supporting a family farm. Although we live in a dense urban neighborhood, we can directly support a rural family and help protect natural resources, all while reducing waste and improving our health. Being a foodie has never been so great.

Will you make any recipes available online for those who are buying shares and need some ideas? We will totally be posting recipes and info about cooking the food we receive on our blog and via email. As the seasons change, so does the produce. There is this fun learning curve when it comes to CSA membership that involves the constant seasonal shift with the growing season that is accentuated when cooking new dishes. We actually really look forward to sharing new recipes and learning things from our members. Before joining, I never could have told you how to enjoy kohlrabi, now I can cook it expertly, so many different ways, thanks to lots of CSA recipe swapping. The Southside CSA is all about building community around sustainable food systems that nourish our neighborhood. Beyond the recipes and experimenting with new cuisines, we will be doing lots of skillshares about canning vegetables to take full advantage of our local harvest.