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What is a CSA?
CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture.
CSA’s have been around for over 25 years. It’s a way for consumers to buy fresh, local food from a farmer.
Here’s how it works.
Farmers offer a certain number of “shares” for sale. A share usually consists of a weekly box of vegetables, but it may include other products. Customers buy a share or maybe two for a larger family, and that gets them fresh produce weekly through the growing season.
This benefits farmers because it is more consistent than selling at a farmer’s market. They form a relationship with their customer, also they can plan their cash flow through the off-season.
This benefits the consumer by building a relationship with the farmer and knowing exactly where the food comes from, it allows them to try new vegetables and eat more vegetables, also gets them really fresh, locally grown food.
There are many variations on how the CSA’s work. Some CSA’s have on-farm pickup so that you can go to the farm directly, chat with the farmer and have some say in your produce for the week. For instance, Pick 2 of the following four choices.
Some CSA’s have drop sites. The farmer picks out what your weekly produce will be, puts it in a box and delivers several boxes to a drop site where you will pick it up. Typically another member’s home, or a place of business or a restaurant.
In addition to produce, some farmers will offer shares of wild-caught fish, grass-fed meat, eggs, dairy, or flowers to name a few.
There is a shared risk when signing up for a CSA. There is a one-time payment up front for the whole season. What happens if deer eat all the lettuce? Or if their is a drought? The farmer usually has backup plans and will have enough of another vegetable if one struggles. You may have a bumper crop of kale and need to get really creative with your recipes. That’s part of being a CSA member.
Eating seasonally may be a new concept to most because at the store we can usually find any vegetable any time of the year. With a CSA expect to get greens and peas, for example, in the spring, and squash and potatoes more toward the fall.
Know that you will most likely still have to supplement with other veggies or fruits from the store. For example, you are making a dish with tomatoes and they aren’t in season yet. Conversely, you will want to plan your menu around your share that week. Some farmers may even send out a picture so that you know what’s coming that week. If not, wait until you get your share, then plan your meals.
Some questions to ask when looking for a CSA
About how much produce should I expect to get each week?
What happens if I’m on vacation on my normal pickup day?
How long have you been farming?
Do you use organic growing practices?
What types of produce do you grow?
Can I visit the farm?
How many people does 1 share feed?
Do you have a website or handout with recipes for the produce you grow?
Are you a family farm?
Do you sell to anyone else besides members? For example, the farm may also sell to a Co-op. In that case you may want to ask, if the tomatoes don’t produce well, who gets the good tomatoes-the members or the co-op?
Where do I start looking for a CSA?
You may be wondering, “how do I find a CSA?” The first place to check is www.localharvest.org.
At the top of the screen, choose CSA in the drop-down box. Then put in your zip code and search. It will list for you all the nearest CSA’s and ones that deliver close to you.
From there you will need to do a little homework. Decide if you’d rather pick up on the farm, then find a farm close to you. Or if picking up at a drop-site is ok. Check out the share size, produce offered, and growing practices. Narrow it down to 2 or 3 then give them a call. Ask them for references if you’d like to talk with other members.
You could also choose Grocery/Co-op from that same drop-down box and put in your zip code. This will give you a list of local health food or co-op grocery stores. Often they will have a relationship with the farmers and may even be a drop-site. They can give you some insight. They may also have a CSA Fair which is where several farmers come to the store, set up tables and answer any questions you may have.
I have been a member of a CSA for 4 or 5 years. I started out with a half share, then moved to a couple share, which is meant for two people, then moved to a family share which is meant for 4 people. A couple share was enough for our family of 4 when the kids were very young.
I picked up at the farm every week. I really enjoyed getting to know the farmer and having a little more flexibility with my choices. I love that my kids can see where their food is coming from. We have even participated in a couple of on-farm events like garlic planting.
Purchasing a CSA share has forced us to get more adventurous with our vegetables. I love kohlrabi and tomatillos, two vegetables that I had never tried before.
We have definitely upped our vegetable intake with having a CSA. Also, I do not want any of that fabulous organic produce to go to waste, so I have to plan a little more, and maybe do a little freezing, but it’s totally worth it when I have organic green beans in the middle of December.
The farm I picked also partners with other farmers and offers us grass-fed meat, wild-caught seafood, organic cheese and ice cream, flowers and fruit. I love being able to pick exactly what we wanted and pick it up in the same place.
I hope this inspires you to meet your local farmer.
Let me know in the comments below if you have ever tried a CSA.
With love + gratitude,