Why You Should Join A CSA (Even If You Already Have a Garden)
What is a CSA?
CSA stands for Community-Supported Agriculture. The first CSA began in the 1980’s with the idea of creating a system that would allow consumers to directly support local farms. The venture did so well that you can now find CSAs everywhere. In the CSA system, individual people or families purchase a share of the farm’s harvest and receive fresh produce throughout the year. By receiving income in advance, farmers are able to invest in their farms with the knowledge that they already have a guaranteed buyer for their crops. You’ll find CSAs all over the world where they provide local, fresh, and often organic food directly to their customers!
Why You Should Join A CSA (Even If You Already Garden)
Opportunities to Try New Foods
CSA’s give you a chance to try new foods! Because they have the funds and guaranteed buyers to experiment, CSA farmers have the ability to plant a whole host of different kinds of fruits and vegetables that you won’t find in most supermarkets or home gardens. Have you always wanted to try homegrown artichokes, daikon radishes, naranjillas, tomatillos, or guavas? A CSA box is exactly the kind of place where you can find uncommon foodstuffs without the effort of finding or growing them yourself.
Support Local Farms
When you purchase a share from a local farm, you’re directly supporting the farmer behind the farm. Small farms can often struggle to survive in our large-scale agriculture centered society. The extra income at the beginning of the growing season helps many farmers keep growing and planting. At the same time, you’re also starting a relationship with the farmer, their land, and a community of CSA subscribers who will share many of the same values as you!
High quality, peak-freshness food
If you primarily rely on supermarkets for your food, you’re going to love having access to local, high quality produce. CSA farmers keep a close eye on their crops and harvest each plant at the peak of freshness. Often the vegetables, fruits, and herbs in your CSA box are picked the morning you receive your share.
Lessen your carbon footprint
Organic supermarket food is often the best option for those of us who don’t have access to our own growing land, but still want wholesome, responsibly grown food. Unfortunately, commercial organic produce is usually grown somewhere on the other side of the country from our homes, and hauled in to our local supermarket on trucks. Because lots of gasoline goes into transporting food, organic food’s carbon footprint is often just as bad as non-organic food. CSA farmers typically live within an hour of their customers, radically cutting down on the carbon produced getting their food to market.
Finding the Right CSA For You
CSA’s are a fantastic way to expand your food horizons. However, each operation is set up a little differently. Read on to find the questions to ask yourself and potential CSA farmers before your commit.
Am I OK with eating new foods and/or eating seasonally?
As I mentioned before, most CSA shares consist of lots of different types of vegetables that change as the seasons progress. You’ll get a lot of variety, but may not get one particular item. For instance, if you have your heart set on tomatoes and only tomatoes, you may end up disappointed if the farm has a bad tomato harvest. However, if you look at your CSA subscription as an exciting chance to explore new foods, you’ll never be disappointed.
A few CSA’s do offer swap boxes. If you really want one kind of produce, it’s worth asking if your potential CSA has this option.
Do I want animal products in addition to vegetables?
Some CSAs only offer plant based boxes, but some also offer egg shares or even beef, pork, or chicken shares. If you’re a carnivore in need of fresh, locally sourced protein, look around for CSAs that offer meat.
How much do I want to eat?
Most CSAs offer different share sizes based on the amount of people they can feed. You’ll find half shares, whole shares, and family shares. Before you commit to a share, make sure that you can consume, preserve, or give away any extra produce from your share so it won’t go to waste.
What payment model works best for me?
While you may be required to pay upfront or in monthly payments that cover a specific time frame matched to the growing season, some CSAs will actually take work in exchange for produce. If you’re low on cash or don’t want to commit to a share without trying it out first, contact the CSA you like and see if they’ll let you volunteer for food.
Where can I pick up my share?
CSAs will almost always let you pick your share up at their property. If you live nearby, driving to the farm won’t be a problem. However, if you live further away, make sure that the CSA delivers to a local farmer’s market or other location that you can reach.
Finding a CSA
If you’re ready to join a CSA and gain access to all that fresh, beautiful produce, check out the following links to find locations near you!
Do you have any CSA tips to share? Let me know in the comments.