What is a CSA
CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture and essentially it means that you’re pre-buying a ‘share’ of produce from a local farmer.
CSA’s all can work a bit different and it’s key to read the fine print, but you get a box either weekly, bi-weekly during the farming season and is usually produce grown on their farm or in some cases, farms might work together in one CSA. Again, it’ll vary – some are just vegetables, some have fruit and veggies, others might include proteins as well.
Pros and Cons of a CSA
Super fresh produce – most things you’re getting have just been harvested.
Supporting a local farm – You have access to how your produce is grown, when it’s grown and sometimes you can even have the ability to visit the farms. Some of them have open houses or other events, giving you a chance to see where your food is grown. In this day and age of industrial farming, there’s something to be said about buying local!
Convenience – I don’t have to go to the farmer’s market each weekend. My box is ready for me every Friday by 3pm and there is a local delivery spot for me to pick up my box here in town.
Creativity 101 – So, let’s talk chard. I don’t use it. I gave the first bunch to my mom. This second bunch, I’m going to use. Somehow. Using what you’re given can force you to be creative but it might lead to new food discoveries!
Eat More Produce – So, we eat more vegetables when we have a CSA box each week. We have eaten through a pound of carrots, spinach has gone in nearly every dish this week, and can we say veggie egg white omelets in the morning? Yep. It’s great, because when we get our box, the kids dig through and always find something they want right then, and they rinse and eat something immediately. We all love the surprise.
Access to one farm usually – Most CSA’s are a one farm stop and the produce you get is limited to what is grown on that particular farm. Now, this isn’t air tight as the CSA I belong to will work with other farms to make sure we get a variety of produce. We do get a notice of what we’re getting that isn’t grown on that farm and why they’re including it.
Super fresh produce – For as much as that’s a pro, it can be a con as well. Your produce will not have a long shelf life and if you go out to eat or are too busy to cook that week, your produce might rot.
Lack of Options – Many CSA’s pack you a box and you’re getting what they have, whether you like it, want it or need it. Other ones do let you choose your produce or decline items.
Lack of Convenience – Some CSA’s do not deliver to a local area, but instead have you come to the farm. Those can definitely be constricting.
Cost – Most people put this in the pro category, but I’m not. Because, most times you’re going to get something you wouldn’t normally buy and you will probably still have to supplement some produce at the store for meals or more fruit for the week. We get the biggest box, but we still need more fruit than what we get because our CSA is mostly a vegetable farm. When we really had to tighten our food budget, this was the first to go, so for our family, it’s more of a luxury that we’re so glad to have back!
Weather – The weather can ruin the crops and because you’ve pre-paid, this can be a detriment when it is harvest time. If a particular crop has been affected, you won’t get as much of that crop as normal, BUT if it is a bumper crop, you’ll get MORE than normal.
Living in the Sacramento Valley means that I have access to the biggest farming region in the country and access to many CSA options. I’ve chosen one that delivers to a central location in my town, so convenience is a big deal to us.
We’ve been very impressed with the produce received and love purchasing some of the extras during the summer and fall. The other benefit to us is that they run their CSA year round, so it’s just a regular added bill into our food budget and I get a box most weeks of the year.
We get a weekly newsletter emailed to us that discusses either something on the farm – why we are or are not seeing some specific item, or discussing a broad farming topic such as the latest romaine lettuce outbreak.
A few times a year we will get the opportunity to purchase ‘extras’ of something grown on the farm such as tomatoes, strawberries, etc. We almost always try to take advantage of these because it has always been things my family loves to eat.
Is a CSA Really Worth It?
It depends one what you value, that’s the honest truth. If you aren’t particular where your food comes from than maybe not. If you don’t have the time or energy to go pick up a box (although there are now a few regional CSA’s that will shit to your front door…) than it might not be a good fit. Honestly, if we couldn’t get a box in the town we live in, I might not buy into one either. We have enough farmer’s markets that I can get to on occasion to help with eating local. If you want to push your cooking skills a bit or expand your vegetable horizons, then a CSA is the way to go. I do notice that we eat way more vegetables when we have a CSA. I hate to see things go to waste and as my Friday posts highlight, I’ve created my own personal challenge use EVERY single piece of produce in our box.
To find a CSA near you, this site (CLICK HERE) is a fantastic resource to get you started.