It’s that time of year!! For many of us, it’s time to think about choosing a CSA in our area so we can enjoy fresh, local, seasonal produce in the coming months. Here is what you need to know to help in choosing the CSA that is right for you.
What is a CSA?
CSA stands for Community Sustained Agriculture and is a great way for you to buy seasonal food from your local farmers. It’s an arrangement where you buy a share in the beginning of the season (most run from June-October here in Michigan) of one of the farms in exchange for produce or other farm products. Buying these shares is helpful for the farmers because it gives them money early on in the season. They are also able to build relationships with the consumers who eat the food they grow. Consumers benefit by receiving incredibly fresh, seasonal produce. Often times, they are exposed to new varieties of produce that helps them expand their food knowledge and diversifies their cooking. Consumers also get to visit the farm, or in some cases work on it for a reduced price of a share.
Is a CSA for everyone?
CSAs are phenomenal if you are looking to support your local farmers and eat more seasonally. However, with buying into a CSA, there is what’s referred to as a ‘shared risk’ or ‘shared loss’. Your local farmers will do their very best to provide delicious, ample produce each week, but some factors are out of their control (namely weather). When it’s a tough season for whatever reason, you may receive less food than expected. This is where you have to decide if a CSA is right for you because there is no guarantee of what you are going to get. You experience the highs and lows that they do.
This is the way I see it so take it for what it is worth; farmers are amazing people. They sustain our country through our most basic of needs. I will full heartedly and enthusiastically support these farmers no matter the yield. They work day in and day out to provide incredibly nutrient dense food for us to consume, and their role is crucial. Being apart of this process is something I would participate in shared risk or not.
Where can I learn about CSAs in my area?
You can visit your local farmer’s market and talk with the different farmers to see if they offer CSA shares. You can also visit localharvest.com, which contains the most comprehensive list of CSAs, or eatwellguide.org lists them in your area as well. I like localharvest.com because you can compare and contrast the following:
7 Things to Keep in mind when choosing a CSA
Here is a compiled list of factors you want to consider when choosing the right CSA for you and your household.
How does the farm grow its food? Are the certified organic? Do they refrain from using pesticides, fertilizers and GMO seeds? This is where you have to ask yourself what’s most important to you. Some farms are not certified organic but use many growing methods that would be classified as so. This is a compelling factor to consider if you are looking for wholesome food grown without the use of harsh chemicals. Some explicitly state their growing methods and what they value and some do not.
Often times you can pick up your produce from the farm or certain drop off areas, but farms also have delivery options (usually for an added cost). Where is the farm located in relation to you? Where can you pick up your produce each week? Make sure it’s somewhere that is convenient for you. If not, you may start resenting the fact that you have to drive 30+ minutes every week to pick up a bag of produce. If you live near a larger city, many farms will have pick-up locations at your local farmer’s market.
3. Different Types of Shares
Many shares solely offer vegetables and some fruit as well. However, you can also find farms that offer meat, egg, raw milk, maple syrup and raw honey shares as well. Some offer said things on their own or in conjunction with vegetable shares as well. What are you looking to consume? If you love supporting local when buying animal products, choosing a CSA with a meat or egg share may be perfect for you! Research what different products the farms in your area have to offer. You can always buy shares from a couple farms to get the food you desire.
On localharvest.com, they often have farms input the kinds of foods they offer during each season. Take a look over what those foods are – maybe you want to branch out and try new things, maybe you don’t. Maybe you want farms that grow many heirloom varieties. Maybe some foods are drawing you to one and not to another. Just one more thing to consider when choosing between multiple farms.
How much is a share? How long does it run? Some vary anywhere form 18-22 weeks. What fits in your budget? What would you like to be spending on fresh produce each week? Do the math and figure this out.
6. Full share vs. half share
Some farms offer a half share in addition to their full share. They’ll also include family sizes in which each is recommended. For example, some will say a full share is great for a family of four where a half share is suitable for two people. Figure out how much produce is suggested with each in order to determine which size is right for you.
7. Work options
Some CSAs require that you work as a part of being a share holder. Others do not. Some offer work options for a cheaper share, and the amount of work can vary weekly or seasonally. Would you like to help out on the farm or would you rather not? This is one thing I look for because I want to learn and be apart of the growing process. However, others may not have the time or interest, which makes this another factor to consider.
I hope this post helps you with determining which CSA you’d like to buy into. I think it’s a marvelous program and want to encourage you so you’re able to find a suitable fit that makes you grateful you committed to such a thing in the first place.
Is there anything I’m missing? What has been your experience with CSAs? Anything you recommend?