Thinking about joining a CSA? Community Supported Agriculture is when a farmer offers shares of their farm to the public. You can purchase a share and throughout the season, members receive weekly shares of the farmer’s products (usually a box or basket). There are many different kinds of CSAs, from fruits to veggies, organic to conventional, or even other items like herbs, meat or honey.
There are so many great reasons to join a CSA. For starters, you are supporting local farmers and local business. When you shop at the grocery store, you might notice produce from all around the world, but with a CSA you can support a local farmer and your local economy. Fruits and vegetables will be fresher, and it is more environmentally friendly to buy local (versus something that had to be shipped around the world). You will probably get to try some new foods, and it saves time and money. And you know exactly where your food is coming from.
Here are some tips for supporting your local CSA:
- Do your research. There are so many kinds of CSAs out there. Do you want all organic? When are the pickup times? Where is the pickup location? Do you want fruits, vegetables, or a combination (or even something else)? Is there volunteering required? I found that LocalHarvest.org is a great resource for finding just the right CSA.
- Sign up early! For a season that starts in May or June, you may have to sign up months in advance to secure a spot. Some CSAs are smaller than others, so spots can be very limited, and many members are yearly subscribers who sign up in the fall or winter. Therefore, CSAs can have filled up all their spots by spring.
- Visit the farm. Often, when you join a CSA, you have an opportunity to visit the farm and/or volunteer. This is a great way to be hands-on, meet local farmers, see how your food is grown, and even get the kids involved.
- Understand that a CSA is a little bit like a stock market. Some years are better than others, and every farm has its ups and downs. The first year I joined a CSA, there was a terrible tomato blight, and of the few tomatoes I received, they were mealy and cracked. It was a really rainy year, and while some crops flourished, others didn’t fare very well. Unexpected conditions can make for poor yields, and farmers do what they can to salvage crops there are extenuating circumstances, so be forgiving!
- Research recipes and be prepared. There is a good chance that you may be receiving produce that you don’t regularly cook with, or maybe you have never even tried before (such as celeriac root or garlic scapes). Or maybe you are familiar with what you will be getting, but you may get such a large quantity of it (like kale or rainbow chard), you will want to add some more variety. There are lots of resources out there for finding recipes, and you can even find cookbooks and blogs that are devoted to CSA members. Sometimes a CSA has their own website with recipes and suggestions, including member’s recipes. These resources can also help give you a basic timeline of what you might be receiving as well (such as root crops towards the fall).
- Don’t let food go to waste. My first year with a CSA, it was tough to keep up with the amount of produce we were getting, and some of it spoiled before I could get to it, or there was simply no way we wanted to consume so much of one vegetable. I just wasn’t ready with recipes and I was busy with a new baby, and I wish I had known how to just store things properly. So one of the ways you can avoid this is to be sure you have recipes ready, but that you know how to freeze foods before they go bad. Again, there are lots of resources online as far as how to go about this. For example, blueberries can be frozen in single layers, while other produce should be ideally cooked or chopped before freezing.
- If you don’t already have one, consider starting a compost bin. Food from a CSA can generate a lot of organic waste, such as carrot tops, peels, rinds, and more. In keeping with the environmentally friendly aspects of joining a CSA, a compost bin will keep all that great organic matter from ending up in a landfill.
Have fun with it! CSAs are great for encouraging lots of great eating habits, new recipes and new foods!
(The photo at the top of this article is from one of my wonderful CSA “hauls” last August!)