What’s NOT to love about CSAs?! Community Supported Agriculture is the perfect alternative to shopping for the same veggies every week at a big chain grocery store. If you like shopping local, and supporting small business, finding a CSA in your area will help you take bring that mentality to your dinner plate. Here are some of the things I love about CSAs:
Oh, the variety!
It’s easy to fall into a routine. When you are doing your weekly shopping, do you end up buying the same veggies each time? Do you ever reach for something new? I certainly didn’t. I played it safe with broccoli, romaine lettuce, potatoes, and carrots. The first time we got sunchokes or celeriac in a CSA haul, we were stumped, but luckily the internet helped us with some ideas. Spoiler alert: basically any root veggie makes a good mash. The mix of veggies challenge us to make creative, colorful meals.
A lesson in agriculture (and a love for local)
Growing up in Upstate NY, I absolutely preferred summer, but besides not having school or snow, there wasn’t a big difference. When you live in a climate controlled house, and get your veggies shipped in from every corner of the globe, you lose sight of seasonality. The CSA really made me think about what grows in my area. Sure, I want to eat pineapple and avocados every day, but the seasonal local bounty made me think about the costs that go in to shipping my precious fruits to me. No wonder pineapple is 6x more expensive on the mainland vs. a Hawaiian farmers market – someone has to pay it’s plane ticket!
I also missed why people getting excited about fruit picking. Why get amped up about strawberry picking when you can buy them at the store 12 months/year? Why slog around an apple farm on a cold day for silly little apples, when you can get huge apples any time you want? Those big plump strawberries in December are probably not grown organically, and if you live anywhere that gets cold, they definitely aren’t grown locally. I could go on an entire tangent about non-GMO and organic produce, but I’ll leave it at this. Know your food. If you know the farmer that grew it, you can ask questions. Sometimes we get quirky smaller apples, or berries that don’t have the same shine as those from the major suppliers, but they were probably picked today. Talk about fresh!
The value makes it worth the money
CSAs have a unique pricing model. Essentially, a farmer has a lot of expenses related to tending to and harvesting crops. Many smaller farms would need to take out loans to kick off a season when they don’t have money coming in yet. As a member of a CSA, you are basically giving the farmer a loan that he or she will pay back to you in crops over a series of weeks. Prices and season length vary by farm and area of the country, but expect to pay a few hundred bucks up front. Many farms have different size “shares” for purchase, so a singleton or veg-curious family might start with a smaller share, while a totally plant-based family could gobble up a full share by mid-week! Yes, the initial cost will have some sticker shock, but do the math. Divided over the number of weeks crops will be offered, what are you really paying for a basketful of local produce? In the cities I’ve lived, it’s always been worth it.
Are you sold on CSAs? Here are some resources for finding one in your area.
Local Harvest: Lets you search for farms by zip code, but city slickers need to remember there might not be a farm in your zip. Don’t forget to zoom out a bit!
USDA: Provides info about what each farm sells, and what payments they accept. Some farms accept SNAP, enabling people to eat healthy on any budget!
These are good resources to start poking around, but if you want the real scoop, ask your neighbors. Find out which CSAs they support. Neighbors will share how satisfied they’ve been with the produce, the pick-up times/location, if the farmer provides any insight into what that odd-looking new veggie might be, etc. They are your dollars, so do your homework.
Don’t know many neighbors? If you live in an area with a neighborhood Facebook group, or an active Nextdoor app community, you’ll be sure to find an opinion or two there.