This summer will be our fourth year of being part of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and we have loved every minute of it! Not only do you get farm fresh organic produce, but you are supporting your local community and your local farmer. And, it is a better deal than paying Farmer's Market prices for the same produce. Of course, it all depends on the weather - some years are good and some, not so good. We have not experienced a bad year, but I have heard of some instances that were not so productive - and thankfully the members stood faithfully by their farmers knowing that they too were suffering through the bad year for crops.
What is a CSA exactly? It is when local farmers provide you with fresh produce, meat, eggs, or other items from their farm. Usually there will be a weekly designated pick-up location, day and time where you will get your items, I have heard of home delivery in some areas. Most of the time you don't get to choose exactly what you want, it all depends on what is produced that week. Be ready for some produce that you have not tried before.
There may be many CSA options in your area, or not many at all. Local Harvest is a great website to check out options nationally. If you are in Dane County, WI, MACSAC is the place to go.
How to choose a CSA? That can be a difficult question to answer. It depends on what you are looking for. Here are some things to think about/check out before making your decision.
- First off would be availability - who still has shares/subscriptions/memberships available, many start signing up members in January and some fill up quickly.
- Will you need help with figuring out what to do with unfamiliar produce? Some CSAs are primarily a "one-man-show" which will likely not be able to provide you with a ton of recipes each week. Others have a team of people helping the farmer and may provide you with lots of helpful information, such as recipes, storage tips, etc. Ask to see a sample newsletter to get an idea of what kind of information the CSA will provide you with from week to week.
- What is it that you are looking for? Mainly veggies, fruit and veggies, other options such as meat, dairy, grains, eggs, etc.? On the Local Harvest or the CSA's website you should be able to get an idea of what produce your CSA will have available throughout the season.
- How much produce can you (and your family) eat each week. Does the CSA offer a half share or an every other week share or large and small shares?
- Pick-up day, location, and time - what works best for you? Some have pick up locations only at the farm, others have several locations to choose from around the city/county, some offer Farmers Market pick-up, some even do home delivery. Make sure you will be able to commit to the weekly or bi-weekly scheduled pick-up day/time.
- Farm events - some CSAs offer various events at the farm, a farm tour, maybe a pick your own pumpkin, pesto making, herb picking, etc. Some do not, what is important to you?
- Produce dissemination method. Most that I have encountered box up the items for the week and you bring a bag to take the items home in. My favorite way to get my produce was farm stand style. The CSA team set up a farm style stand and a list of what you could take that week. A trade or take basket is also nice. If you don't want something you can leave it/trade it for something else or if you want more of something you may be able to take extra (not all CSAs have this option).
- Cost, what can you afford? Remember, you will be receiving this over the course of the growing season. Although it is a bit of upfront cost, it will essentially save you money (and your body will be healthier for it too). *Check to see if your insurance company will reimburse you for CSA memberships. So, let's see, last year my CSA cost $430 for the season (21 weeks) for half a bushel of fresh produce. That works out to be about $20/week, but if our insurance also reimbursed us, we would have only paid $11/week. Also, if you are low income, don't dismiss this as a potential opportunity to get fresh, local, organic produce. Many CSAs offer discounted programs to various income levels - don't be afraid to ask!
Have you tried a CSA? If not, have you considered it or is this new to you? If you are thinking of joining for the 2012 season, start researching now!
This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday, for more great ideas about simple living, check out this link.