A few years ago, my husband came home from work and told me some colleagues were asking him about the CSA farm share we belong to. I was surprised, to say the least, as my carnivorous husband was discussing vegetables. This was the person that once suggested I may be “killing him with kale.” Someone went as far as to say, “he knows all about vegetables.” What the what?!?
This exchange, along with the many other benefits of a CSA, will have me forever singing its praises. If you like to eat, join a CSA. Want to learn all about it first? Let’s go to the chalkboard.
Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA for short, is a program offered by farmers (many times local, often organic) to the public. For a set price, members purchase a “share” of the farm and in turn receive about six months worth of produce. This is a mutually beneficial relationship where farmers receive money up front to help with their operating costs and members receive local produce directly from the farm.
The price varies per farm with most shares costing from $500 to $800 a season or roughly $22-35 a week. The length of growing seasons can vary from farm to farm but most operate approximately 25 weeks starting at Memorial Day ending Thanksgiving week.
Each week you arrive at a designated pick up site (homes, offices, farmers markets) and pick up a box filled with produce. Some farms offer home delivery for an additional fee (average of $50 per season.) Localharvest.org can help direct you to a CSA in your area.
Here’s the big question. HOW MUCH FOOD am I getting? The answer is, it varies. When you purchase a share you are entering a contract with the farmer. A bad growing season can negatively impact the amount of vegetables you receive. Most farms yield enough that you won’t even notice if a crop has been adversely impacted. You can expect to receive approximately 6-9 items each week for the duration of the share. This is easily enough to feed a family of four.
You don’t get to choose what is in your share each week. It varies based on the individual farm and most times you won’t know until a few days before. It is a great way to discover new vegetables. Considering these vegetables have been picked within a day or so, the freshness can’t be beaten.
Before you sign up, there are some things to consider. Is a full share too many vegetables for you? Many farms offer half shares or assist in finding someone to split a share with. Also, consider if the pickup site is a convenient distance to your work or home. You will be traveling there once a week for several months. Make sure you are available during the pickup window as timing can be pretty strict with some farms.
When you first join a CSA, there’s seemingly a great deal of food. You see how beautiful the food is, you would hate to waste it.
Here are some things to know to set yourself up for CSA success
- Learn how to properly store vegetables. The difference between a properly stored vegetable and improperly stored vegetable can mean weeks of freshness.
- Keep a list of vegetables you have left over from previous weeks. This will help you to use up any vegetables hiding in your fridge or pantry. Perhaps make your own Kitchen Chalkboard?
- Meal Plan (our archives are a great place to start). Think about breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Are there any nights you will be busy? Plan a salad or stir-fry.
- Get to know your farm and farmer. Many farms have events where you can go visit and learn about their farming practices. Have a question about what an item is in your share? Email your site coordinator or farmer. No one knows the crop better than those that tend it.
Joining a CSA is a wonderful experience. Over the season, I’ll be sharing tips on how to make the most of a share. Anyone else a member of a CSA? What has your experience been?