CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Simply put, a CSA is a group of people who have committed support to a local farm. In a CSA, the farm and members share some of the risks and benefits of food production. CSA members pay before the beginning of the growing season for a share of the anticipated harvest; once harvesting begins, they periodically, generally weekly, receive shares of produce.
CSA is Not For Everybody
In principle, Community Supported Agriculture is a phenomenal concept. A group working together to support a local food ecosystem results in a more caring community. However, the reality is many have negative experiences with CSA. Without really analyzing the pros and cons of a CSA, you are at risk of disappointment.
What to Consider Before Joining a CSA
A CSA is a commitment and is completely different than other modes of food shopping. Here are some considerations before making that commitment. Start by asking yourselves these important questions.
Do you want to support a specific local farm?
Typically, your CSA will come from one farm. The benefit is there is no middleman. You are buying direct which puts more money in the pocket of the hardworking farmer. This also means you can often buy extra shares of other products like eggs and meat. Supporting that farm means a lot for their financial security and well-being. It really is a partnership.
Do you want to be limited to one local farm?
By nature, there are no guarantees when it comes to the harvest and yield of one farm. What if there is crop damage or other unforeseen circumstances that impact the quality and quantity of product? Think about it, what if there is a bumper crop of a certain vegetable (some you may have never even heard before) and less of a veggie you love? Remember that commitment? You have paid up front. It’s up to you to stick it through.
Do you love fresh food?
A CSA brings produce from farm to fork (or other preferred utensils) in real time. Everything is usually harvested right before delivery. This means it’s all fresh, fresh, fresh, which is fantastic. Your veggies will stay fresh longer because they haven’t wasted time at the grocery produce section. Fruits are ripe and at peak flavor. What’s not to love about that?
Are you ready to use fresh food?
How much food gets stashed in your fridge to be forgotten about until it’s too late? Many people share their initial excitement for fresh veggies and have use for them the first week. Then the deliveries pile up. Guilt and anxiety start to set in if there is waste. This is why you should consider splitting the CSA with another family or find ways to use any overabundance. What about canning? Juicing? Even better, hold lots of dinner parties and serve huge salads.
Is saving money important to you?
It is proven that a CSA is much more cost effective than buying from a grocery store or even Farmers’ Markets. It’s even more noticeable when buying organic or other speciality food. This is because there are no extra costs like renting a booth or distributor discounts. If you want to save money and still get value, CSA is for you. Even if you don’t use all of it.
Can you pay upfront?
A CSA typically costs a few hundred dollars depending upon what you buy. This is paid upfront which creates a cash flow consideration. And there are no refunds if you miss a delivery. If you are out of town, don’t be afraid to give your weekly shipment to others. That way you can at least generate some social capital for your upfront financial investment.
Do you like to get involved?
Many CSA programs have volunteer opportunities and wonderful communities of people you will love to meet. CSA communities care and are interactive. Go out and meet your neighbors! You could even consider it community-based activism for health and supporting local food.
Do you have the time to volunteer?
Be prepared to put in some time to help out. This is common practice to keep administrative overhead to a minimum which directly impacts your food costs. By nature, this also means that you have to work together with other volunteers. There will be hiccups. But really, that’s just an excuse to learn team work and community right?
Are you ready to expect the unexpected?
We’ve alluded to this before, but in a CSA you are agreeing to give up some (actually a lot of after choosing a farm) of your control. This can lead to some unexpected surprises, especially in your food. If you have signed up for an organic farm full of heirloom vegetables, it can be a pretty fun way to try new things. You might discover a new favourite fruit or veggie! While at the same time, some people don’t enjoy having to learn how to identify a strange vegetable let alone figure out how to cook it during a busy summer.
So is CSA right for you?
No? Maybe you want to try the Farmers’ Market first?
Yes? If it is, feel free to contact us and we can help you decide which farm to join. Community supported agriculture is just one way that we can help love our local farmers.