You know your doctor, your dentist and the mechanics who fix your car, and you see them only every so often. But what about the people who grow the food you eat everyday? Two years ago, I met Tess from Swift Farm. She’s my farmer. Yes, I grow a lot of my own vegetables, but I love the arrival of an overflowing produce basket every other week. And that is what I get from Tess. From May through October, Tess drops off a basket brimming with fresh vegetables, fruits, herbs and eggs from her farm. I bought a share of her CSA to help feed my family…and hers.
What’s a CSA?
What’s a CSA, you ask? CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. This is a system where a community supports a farmer, through financial means or labor. In return, the individual “investors” get a “share” of the farmer’s harvest. The concept has come a long way since I worked on my first CSA farm back in 1997 in Northern Wisconsin. The idea was just getting started and we had four families who had purchased shares. Over the years, I have also worked on CSA farms in Massachusetts and Vermont. I’ve seen the concept evolve and mature to the point where now you can practically go shopping for a farm.
A CSA is a great way to nourish your family and to help farmers prosper. To join a CSA, you buy a subscription (or “share”) from a farm. Then you regularly receive a part of the harvest.
6 Reasons Why Joining a CSA is Good For You
- You receive the freshest fruits and vegetables possible, short of growing them yourself.
Because the farm is local, the food you buy is the freshest it can be. It’s picked, and within 24 hours, it’s in your hands. There’s no trucking it hundreds or thousands of miles away, so it’s perfectly ripe. Nothing is picked early just to sit on the shelf.
- You receive a variety of produce from your share.
What comes in your basket depends on what type of subscription you choose and which farm you buy from. Usually the baskets are brimming with fresh, in-season produce. You might get vegetables you’ve never heard of before. That can lead to new favorites and some culinary experimentation.
- It can be more than fruits and vegetables.
Some CSAs let you add meat, eggs, cheese, grains or canned produce to your subscription. You’d get farm-fresh eggs, foods canned at their freshest, and locally-raised meats such as lamb, poultry, beef or buffalo.
- You can order as much as your family needs.
You can also choose the size of your basket. Half, regular and large shares are available. Choose based on your family’s size and eating habits. Friends and neighbors can buy a full share together and split the produce between them. You can choose a seasonal share to receive baskets during a specific time of year such as summer only, or some farms have winter shares. You might even be able to use SNAP benefits to pay for your CSA share.
- You actively build a strong local food system.
When local farmers stay in business, more food is grown close to home. That is good for you and your whole community. A strong, or resilient local food system is one that proves enough food when people need it. I live in Oregon, and despite being a cornucopia of food production, we have some of the highest hunger rates in the country. Strong local food systems help to end hunger before it begins. If there is a natural disaster, having more food production closer to home and readily available is critical. These systems don’t pop up overnight. They take decades to build. You help ensure they are in place by buying more local foods.
- You may waste less food.
Wasting food is throwing money away. Because the food you get from a CSA is so fresh, it doesn’t go bad as quickly as other store-bought produce might. Plus, there is something special about knowing the person who worked hard to make the food you eat. Even if is a new vegetable or variety you may not have bought for yourself, it feels like a gift when it arrives at your door. It’s precious. You cherish it, and you are more inspired to figure out a way to use it.
Find the Right Fit For Your Family
Because no two CSA farms are alike, you’ll want to find the right fit for your family. Three things to consider when selecting your CSA are:
- Do you want only fruits and vegetables? Would you like to add meat, eggs, cheese, nuts, grains and other products onto your subscription?
Some farms may offer many of these food items while others offer just one. Look at the drop off dates, and other factors you think are important. You may want to subscribe to more than one CSA to find all the local foods you want.
- How much food do you want to source during the year? And how long do you want to source this food?
Are you an adventurous chef who cooks with lots of different types of seasonal produce? Do you want to be? Do you just want fresh berries delivered from the farm once a week for 3 months? Think about how you will use the food and how often you want to receive the produce. Many farms supply recipes and tips for using the foods. Other CSA members like to share tips and ideas on how they used the delivery, too.
- What are the dates and locations for CSA deliveries?
Drop off dates and locations vary by farm, so find out when and where the farmer drops off the baskets. Make sure it is it close and convenient enough that you will be able to easily pick up your basket.
It’s usually best to start small and build from there. At first, sign up for a half share, or limit the number of weeks in your subscription. Once you’ve experienced the process and learned tips on how to use the variety of foods, you’ll have a better sense of what will work for your family.
The Benefits of a CSA
CSAs are a wonderful way to get your family’s produce and other foods. Buy delicious, nutritious foods (often of unusual varieties) that were harvested less than a day before you receive them. Your family also gets a direct connection to the people who grew your food and the land where it was grown.
Farmers greatly benefit from CSAs too. Having a direct connection to the families who eat their food is meaningful. It’s been twenty years since I worked on the CSA farm in Amherst, Massachusetts, but I still vividly remember the joy and camaraderie of basket pick up day. Hundred of kids, parents, grandparents and neighbors arriving in waves, saying hello, cutting herbs and flowers and swapping recipes. It made the long, hot days working the fields all worth it. Plus, the earlier the farmer can identify customers, the better they are able to plan their operations. Better planning leads to more success. CSAs help develop sustainable agribusiness – meaning, they help farmers stay in business. No farms, no food, right?
Support Your Local CSA
CSA subscriptions are available now! Contact your state department of agriculture or check out Local Harvest to find the right CSA for you. Don’t hesitate to contact the farmer to ask any questions you have. They want to hear from you. Some many even schedule a tour date so you can actually see the farm and process in action. You’ll learn first-hand how joining a CSA can support your local farmers and nourish your family.
Watch the video below to learn more about Community Supported Agriculture & how it works.