Image by Stacy Spensley
If you are starting to get into local food you’ve probably heard the term “CSA” thrown around. But what is a CSA? Canadian Space Agency? Confederate States of America? Cambridge Scientific Abstract? No, that’s not what we’re going for. How about:
Community Supported Agriculture!
A CSA, simply put, is what happens when people support local farmers. It works like this:
1. You buy a “share” in the farm for the growing season (around here in West Michigan it’s usually June-October, but there are winter and spring CSA’s too). A share is usually a good amount for a large family, but most farms offer half-shares too.
2. The farmer brings their produce to a set location each week and gives you a set amount of whatever was ready to harvest that week. Most CSA’s focus on vegetables, but some have fruit, too, and some offer eggs and meat and diary.
Farmers like this set-up because even if they have a less-than-stellar season due to drought or floods or pests, they’ve been paid for their work at the beginning of the season. But what’s in it for you: the consumer, the home cook, the vegetable-eater?
11 Reasons to Join a CSA
1. It Tastes Better. The produce that local farms grow are fresh because they are usually just picked that day. Local farmers also often grow unique varieties of crops that have a more 3-dimensional flavor than standard grocery-store produce. Mmmmm heirloom tomatoes….
2. To Encourage You to Try New Vegetables. You might not ever reach for that kohlrabi at the grocery store, but if you get it from your CSA it’s not quite so scary. I’ve fallen in love with interesting root vegetables like rutabagas and parsnips, and discovered ground cherries, tomatillos, and garlic scapes. Vegetables go way beyond peas and carrots!
3. To Encourage You to Eat More Vegetables. Something happens when you get a big box of veggies each week: you eat them! If you don’t get to them in time, they get wasted, and you quickly learn how to use them faster. It’s easy for me to focus my meals on starches and protein and healthy fats (all good things!) and not always load them up with veggies. So it’s nice to have some extra encouragement to work in those fresh, vitamin-rich vegetables!
4. Save Money. Whether most of your vegetables are coming from the grocery store or the farmer’s market, buying everything individually certainly adds up, especially if you are trying to up your veggie consumption. If your CSA is reasonably priced, chances are good that you’ll be saving money compared to what it would cost to buy everything that they give you! And there are often freebies and extras available to those who are willing to put in a little elbow grease.
5. It’s A Fun Meal Planning Challenge. Maybe this is just me, but I think it’s really fun to bring my veggies home and figure out what to do with them. Radish sandwiches? Brown rice salad with kale and chickpeas? Stuffed Zucchini? The sky’s the limit. Not sure what to do with your produce? See my next point…
6. Get Recipe ideas. If #4 intimidates you, keep in mind that you are not doing this alone; you are doing it with a whole community connected with your farm (see #8)! Some farms have recipe blogs, or send out ideas in a weekly e-mail newsletter. If you’re still unsure of how to use a certain unfamiliar vegetable or need a fresh idea for something that’s getting old, just ask the farmer behind the table at your pick-up, or the person who happens to be at the table next to you. And if all else fails, there is always Google!
7. Learn about Farming (& Teach your kids!). Being connected with a local farm gives you a chance to learn more about the work that goes into growing good food. Sometimes, CSA’s require or encourage shareholders to spend some time helping out at the farm, and sometimes certain crops will be “u-pick.” This lightens the load of the farmers and gives you a chance to see how things grow. It’s a great way to get kids excited about eating vegetables!
8. Get Connected to Others in Your Community. If you are new to an area or just feel disconnected, consider this: vegetables are a great ice breaker! Our CSA has been a place where acquaintances become friends. Have someone you want to become better friends with? Ask if they might want to split a share with you! Then you can meet at the farm to divvy it up each week. Farms also often have potlucks for their members to get to know each other and to celebrate the season.
9. Stock Up for the Winter. If your farm has an overabundance of a certain crop, they may tell you to take a large amount for canning or freezing. One year ours had u-pick green beans for several weeks in a row, so I just froze some each week. Need some tips for freezing with very little time? Try these lazy freezing techniques!
10. Save Time Shopping. You may be adding an extra stop to your weekly shopping routine, but having someone decide which vegetables you are eating that week and gathering them for you certainly more than makes up for the lost time. I love going to the grocery store and only needing a handful of items because most of my food comes from farms!
11. Use Your Gifts to Bless Others. Do you like to organize events? Maybe your farm would like help organizing their potluck or making a schedule for volunteers! Love to cook? A couple years ago, I got a gig making food for people to sample each week in return for a free share. Have a heart for helping those who can’t afford high-quality produce? Perhaps you can dream up a way to give extra produce to those who need it. Are you a graphic designer? Ask if they would like some help with promotional materials. If you have a gift that you would like to put to good use, talk to your farmers.
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Have you ever been a part of a CSA? What do you like most about it?