It is time again to sign up for a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). How CSA works is by having people sign up in advance for a share of the harvest from a farm. Members pay up front for their share, and each week during the growing season, they receive a share box of assorted vegetable. Some CSA’s offer full and half shares. Others also include items besides vegetables as part of a share or for an extra price some offer chickens and meat, eggs, honey, baked goods, flowers, diary, vegetable starts etc.
The arrangement usually works out well for both the members and the farmer. The farmer gets some of his/her up front cost covered, and has a better idea about how much to grow. The members receive fresh vegetable in season harvested usually the day they receive their share box.
Members also may get to visit the farm, attend work parties and social events, and in general have a relationship with their farmer and know where their food is coming from. Members may also have a say in part to what is grown. Fell free to tell your farmer what you like, and he/she might be able to accommodate.
The idea behind a CSA is that the members share the bounty and the risk of an unpredictable harvest of a farm. Sharing the risk is key. For example, if your CSA experiences a bout of tomato blight then you will not have tomatoes in your share. While at the same time, they might have a bumper crop of strawberries, so it can all work out. Expereinced CSA farmers will grow a large variety of seasonal vegetables to acount for mishaps.
CSA’s vary greatly in what a farm offers, the cost, the amount of vegetables in the share boxes, and the number of weeks/share boxes in a seaon. Some go year round. Others offer meat, bread, eggs, dairy, and or prepared or frozen vegetable CSA’s instead of seasonal raw vegetables. Some only offer full shares.
Also popular CSA’s can be very hard to get into because of a strong local following. So it is a good idea to sign up early if you can.
So how do you choose a CSA that is right for you, and how do you get the most out of your CSA?
Most CSA’s that have been going for a few years have a blog or a newsletter. I suggest checking out the the farms blog. Most will have a picture and info about each weeks share from last season. This will give you a great heads up about what the last years shares looked like and what you will/might get in this years.
Some of the vegetables in the share may be new to you, which is a good thing. My experience with CSA introduced me to parsley and celery root, garlic whistles, pea tendrils, corn shoots, baby beet greens, and much more. CSA members in my opinion need to be adventurous eaters and cooks with trying new vegetables. Farmer often provide recipes and suggestion for uses of their veggies.
If you are too picky, a CSA might not be the best fit. The picky vegetable eater may find themselves frustrated with half their week share consisting of foods they do not eat. The key to a successful CSA experience is to see each new seasonal vegetable as a challenge to find something tasty to make with it. And the more veggies we try, the more we may like, and the healthier we will be from having a variety of nutrients in our food.
Likewise, a CSA share may consist with a lot of one item for a few weeks in a row. That is simply how the growing season works. I get excited by when a new veggies appears in my share, and then I’ll see it again and again, until I am tired of it, but just when I am it is gone and a new seasonal veggie appears. So be prepare for new veggies and too much of one veggie.
Note that a CSA will most likely not provide all of your families vegetable needs. You will probably buy some additional fruits, nuts, seeds, eggs, etc…
The alternative to a CSA is to go to the farmers market and choice what you want with your $20-30 dollar CSA share budget. Some of the same farmers who offer a CSA also sell at the market.
Related article from Local Harvest
For CSA’s in your area check out: