CSA: Community Supported Agriculture

One of the blog themes for May was "community", so I couldn't let the month end without a discussion of community supported agriculture, or CSA.  Many of you are probably already familiar with CSAs, but hopefully you'll be inspired to learn more about CSAs, join one, or (why not?) even start one.

What is a CSA?

CSAs are like subscription services to a local farm.  The details can vary from farm to farm, but most commonly, you pay a certain amount of money up-front for a specific number of weeks' worth of fresh, local produce from a particular farm.  For example, the CSA we have used charges $300 for ten weeks.

Each week, we received a large box (technically, a half-bushel) full of seasonal, certified organic veggies, fruits, and herbs. In some cases, you might go to the farm or a farmers' market to pick up your weekly CSA box; in other cases, the CSA might deliver to your home or organize drop points around the city where you go to pick up your box each week.

Photo by F Delventhal

Benefits of a CSA

There are many benefits to joining a CSA. In a nutshell:

• Because you pay up-front, the farmer is assured of a steady income throughout the season.

• You are guaranteed a steady supply of produce each week.

• It's hard to find produce more fresh and flavorful than this - unless you grow your own!

• You will try new things and become acquainted with new flavors; our CSA often included recipes for various veggies and suggestions for preparation.

• Buying locally not only supports your local economy, but also helps the environment - if you live in Texas, why buy bok choy flown in from California when you can buy it from the farm outside of town?

• Many CSAs are either certified organic or use organic practices, which also helps the environment as well as benefiting your health.

• Some CSAs also offer the option of adding on things like local pastured eggs, nuts, locally roasted coffees, and cut flowers straight from the farm (my personal favorite!).

CSAs might also offer the option of work in exchange for food. Known as a workshare, this is a great way to get your hands dirty, learn about gardening from the experts, and receive your veggies and fruit at a reduced price, or for free.

Photo by Dwight Sipler

Community

One of the most important benefits is simply the sense of connectedness and community that comes from being part of a CSA. Knowing that you are helping to provide your local farmer with a living wage, committing to eat food that was grown in dirt not far from your own home, and getting to know your fellow CSA members through farm days, potlucks, and volunteer or workshare days - this is an experience unmatched by any other.

For more information or to find a CSA near you, visit localharvest.org. Outside of the United States, check here.

Have you ever been part of a CSA? What was your experience like?

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11 Comments

  1. Aimee @ Simple Bites

    Fantastic post, Katie! This is such a cool way to bring the farm right into your kitchen.

    I’m encouraged to see the popularity of CSA growing more and more. Hat’s off to the farmers.
    .-= Aimee @ Simple Bites’s last blog: The Best Do-Ahead Breakfast Foods =-.

  2. E

    We’re looking into possibly joining a CSA so I definitely want to hear what people have to say about their experience. I love the idea of supporting local organic agriculture, but I admit I’m a picky veggie eater, so getting a box of exotic vegetables with which I’m unfamiliar may be tough to swallow. (Pun intended). ; ) Anyone like me done a CSA? Good or bad for you? I await your feedback!

  3. abbie

    I used to belong to a CSA, both when I was single, and after I got married and had children. As a singe person who had sole discretion planning my menus, I loved belonging to my CSA. It was pretty pricey actually, at $750 for a full share 5 years ago. I shared this “share” with another vegetarian and it was basically 60% of the foods I consumed each week. Our CSA produced biodynamic crops, and supplemented with yeast-free breads, yogurt, fruits, berries, grains, eggs, dairy, and pastas. (Not all in one week of course.)
    As a married person, with a very young child and the nausea that a first trimester 2nd pregnancy brings it was very difficult for me to keep up with our CSA. I certainly wasn’t in a flexible menu situation, and I ended giving away most of it to friends. I also got tired of the same veggies I didn’t like as much like chard, and kohlrabi for months on end.
    Now, as a gluten-free individual it is hard for me to justify paying more for pasta, breads and grains I can’t eat. There are other CSAs near us, but they don’t drop off conveniently. So this year I decided just to go to the farmers’ market and pick out what we want.
    I loved supporting smaller farms. And I loved eating locally. The quality of the produce was second to none. Really. My son who is a picky eater wouldn’t eat the store melon. He’d ONLY eat the CSA picked-the-day-before melon, juice running down his chin and all.
    For those interested in joining a CSA, do your research early, like February or March. Most shares are sold out by now. Also, most CSAs will give you an idea of what they are planting, when you’ll get what, and about how much your family might need/consume. Many CSAs have multiple drop-off points, and payment methods if you can’t plunk down a chunk of cash all at once. Do check out localharvest.org, your county parks and recreation website, your local newspaper “metro” section, and even eatwild.org has links to farms that also do produce and meat CSAs.
    Great article! Thanks.

  4. Jeanne

    This is the first year that any of our local farms has offered a CSA, and we are charter members! It’s been an excellent experience. Our CSA is very small since they’re just starting, which gives us a great opportunity to get to know the farmers. We pick up our shares at the farm, so we get to interact with the farmers as well as see all the crops and how they are grown. Since our CSA is so small, they actually let us choose what we would like in our basket each week. This is helpful for picky eaters, but it’s probably only offered by smaller farms or those that are just starting their CSA program.
    .-= Jeanne’s last blog: Daring Bakers Challenge: Pièce Montée =-.

  5. Primal Toad

    I was introduced to CSA’s when I read Michael Pollens book, In Defense of Food. Before that I had no idea what it was.

    Since then I have attracted it into my life more and more. The more I hear about it the more interested I am. It is time I bring it up with my parents to see if they want to buy a share! If not, I will just wait till next year when I am living in my own home 🙂

    Thanks for the inspiration!
    .-= Primal Toad’s last blog: If You Want Happiness In Your Life Then Simply Choose It =-.

  6. Laura

    Yay! So happy to read this. I wrote about CSA’s here a little while back, and so far this year we have been amazed at what we’ve gotten from our share. The freshest, most beautiful greens, strawberries, radishes, scallions, and the season has barely begun. We have been eating salad daily and it’s the best salad I’ve ever had. I love how we are almost “forced” to eat more healthfully by making use of our share. And since we get to pick up our share directly from the farm each week, our children are getting a great education in connecting food with its source.
    .-= Laura’s last blog: This Moment: Prom =-.

  7. Rea

    I purchased a half-share in a CSA about 2 summers ago. Although it was SO exciting to go pick up that box of goodies every week I quickly tired of their selection. I am not a radish eater, so to get bunch after bunch after bunch week after week was really frustrating and wasteful. I did get to try some interesting new greens, but found that during the summer months there was very little that I really wanted to eat. And then came tomato season and the incredibly meager amount of tomatoes they gave. For what it cost, it was definitely not worth the price. Now my own garden is up and growing and if I want something different I will make the drive to the farmers market.
    .-= Rea’s last blog: Promise =-.

  8. Trudy G.

    I started a small CSA this year. I was very excited by the response of the local community to my endeavor. I am hoping to turn this into a full-time job in the next five years. I went with garden staples this year just for the reasons listed above and because I know that I can grow them with no trouble. This week I will be making the first delivery to the members and am looking forward to actually meeting several that I do not know other than via email and phone.
    .-= Trudy G.’s last blog: Garden Update – Surgery Edition =-.

  9. Nicole aka Gidget

    we LOVE our CSA! today is pickup, in fact, and in a about a week we get to go do our first farm visit- can’t wait!
    ours is so worth the money for the amazing organics we get, and it definitely has gotten me out of my comfort zone, especially with leafy greens!
    .-= Nicole aka Gidget’s last blog: A Home Tour and a Horse Ride =-.

  10. Jenny

    We just joined a CSA in our area and it starts for the summer in just a couple of weeks. Reading your post makes me even more excited to see what organic veggies we’ll get each week!

  11. hermes birkin 35

    This is a very good thing. Everybody can eat health food grown by their own hand.

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