CSA: Community Supported Agriculture; a way for consumers to buy local, seasonal food directly from farmers.
Earlier this Spring I signed our family up for our first CSAs. We found an amazing little organic farm for our veggies and another farm for free range, grass fed meat (pork, beef & chicken/eggs). Both farms are a town away. We’ve lived in this area for the past 7 years and we had no idea they existed. Total cost: $60/week for both for the Spring, Summer and Fall. We will have enough food to enjoy and freeze/preserve for the Winter.
CSAs, as I briefly mentioned in my last post, A Little About Going Organic, are one of a handful of ways I have found to afford organic produce. Going organic is important to me and the health of my family, as well as the environment. But it can be expensive. CSAs help with that.
Buying produce through a CSA means buying directly from a farmer. You purchase “shares” at the beginning of the season or year and you pick up your produce weekly (sometimes bi-weekly) at that farm. Instead of going to the grocery store every week, you stop at the farm instead. We now reserve grocery store shopping for nonperishables and dry goods and we often buy them in bulk to last us a few weeks. In this vein, I made sure that the farms I was going to use were within a comfortable driving distance. If they were too far away I knew I wouldn’t want to drive there every week. So keep that in mind. Convenience is an important motivator; if it isn’t convenient for you to go there, you likely won’t do it or won’t enjoy it.
Your produce is seasonal and local. This means you get lots of leafy greens in the Spring, tomatoes and corn and other hot weather produce in the Summer, and root vegetables, pumpkins and squash in the Fall. In addition, you get a large variety, which is great if you like to try new things!
How do I start?
If you know of a farm near you, great! Stop by and talk to them and inquire about whether they do CSAs. If you don’t know about farms near you, try checking out your nearest farmer’s market and asking some of the local farm vendors – many farms do both CSAs and farmers markets.
Alternatively, you can use Google or https://www.localharvest.org/. This website was particularly helpful for me because I could find farms near my zipcode. I could also see which farms were certified organic, what types of produce they farm, and customer reviews. You can also find farmers markets on this site.
How much food will I get?
Shares very slightly per farm, so make sure to ask upon purchasing a share. In my experience, I found that most farms cater to an average family of four. If that is too much, they recommend splitting with another family or couple. So far this year, we have received a LOT of food each week; we find ourselves freezing, preserving and occasionally scrambling to keep produce from going bad. We are only two people, but my husband eats for 2 or 3 sometimes. So far I am enjoying the challenge and we haven’t had anything go to waste yet!
How long does the season go for?
This will vary per farm also, but it will typically match your climate’s growing season (for produce farms). For us here in the Northeast, that means June – November, but in warmer states that could mean April -November. On the contrary, our meat CSA has year-round offerings and you can pick which quarters (per season) of the year you would like to participate. We love it so much we have hung on for multiple seasons thus far. We’re hoping they’ll offfer turkeys around Thanksgiving!
-Not having to come up with meal ideas. The seasonal vegetables and meat offerings make us work with what we have fresh and available. Honestly, it keeps us from eating out so much because we know we have food to cook through already in the house.
– I am forced to get creative and come up with meals for the produce I have on hand. I have cooked with vegetables I have never even heard of before and we are loving the experimenting. We’ve found more than a few new favorite recipes!
-Community: I am on a first name basis with the folks that grow and harvest our food. They care about us. I have grown so fond of visiting them every week that I even offered to help out when I have free time. They’re locals, like us, and they simply desire to feed their community and take a lot of pride in doing so. I know my money is going where it should, not to corporations that give farmers pennies on the dollar for their crops.
-The immense benefit of putting money back into your local economy.
-The even bigger benefit of supporting an environment-improving, sustainable, ozone-layer-fixing system of organic farming. Not to mention the health benefits and all the money you can save from lowering your healthcare costs. Read more on this at A Little About Going Organic.
I hope I helped demysify CSAs for you all and I hope you will consider them. Even big cities have CSAs. Give it a shot. I wish I had done this a long long time ago.