Community supported agriculture (CSA) is a partnership between eaters and farmers. In most CSAs, members purchase a CSA share from the farmer before the growing season, and in return receive regular installments of food — usually weekly — for the duration of the season. Many CSAs are limited to vegetables and fruit, but others offer eggs, meat, milk, cheese and even prepared foods. There are also a growing number of community supported fisheries (CSFs) for seafood.
Every week. For a whole season! It’s hard to beat the taste (or nutritional quality) of vegetables harvested just hours before you pick up your share. And it’s exciting to see the changes and variety in what you receive each week as the growing season progresses.
We’ve all heard the benefits of eating more vegetables, but most of us could still stand to eat more of them. When you get a big bag of delicious produce every week, it makes eating well just a little easier. When you sign up for a share you have minimal choice in what you get each week. For families, the variety of vegetables that you get can greatly expand how your kids (and you) think about the veggies and what they’re excited to try. If it’s ripe, it’s dinner.
Because you don’t always know exactly what you’re going to get over the course of the season, and sometimes you end up with fruits or vegetables you’ve never tried or never even heard of. Many CSAs include newsletters with ideas for how to cook with the weekly haul. Plus you can check out our Real Food Encyclopedia to find information and recipes for just about any fruit or vegetable you’re likely to encounter.
Small farms, like the ones that frequently operate CSAs, work on small profit margins and are especially susceptible to the hazards of a bad growing season. These farms often receive less governmental support than their large-scale counterparts, despite being the most financially insecure. The more support we give local farms, the more it benefits our local economies and the greater knowledge we have of where our food comes from.
The typical CSA uses almost no packaging, and members bring their own reusable bags and containers to transport items home, whereas supermarkets largely use Styrofoam and plastics-based packaging.
Being part of community supported agriculture is a reliable way of meeting and influencing your neighbors and nearby food producers. It’s also a great way to meet your farmers and other members during weekly pick-ups. Communities are built around the love of food and nothing brings people together like the joy of growing, cooking and eating. It’s the C in CSA!
People who cook at home have the security of knowing what ingredients are in their meals as it’s the only way to avoid excess sodium, sugars and fats, which are added to nearly everything processed and store-bought. The produce that arrives in your share came from a farm you’ll get to know, and possibly visit.
Although most community supported agriculture arrangements ask for the fare in one chunk before the season starts, they mostly end up costing about $20 to $25 per week. Since you’re spending less time in supermarkets you’re apt to make fewer impulse decisions (which add up quickly). And if you have a short non-CSA list (milk, eggs, cheese, bulk grains, spices perhaps) you can eat very well for not much money.
Note that weekly CSA shares often include a whole lot of produce. If you don’t think you’ll be able to use it all, consider buying a half share, or splitting a share with a friend. Or go with the whole share and preserve whatever you can’t use right away by freezing or canning.