Understanding Communited Supported Agriculture (CSA's) and Their Benefits

Understanding Communited Supported Agriculture (CSA’s) and Their Benefits

garden csa

Guest Post by Kate

If you want to provide cheap, fresh, local produce for your family, you only have one option, right? To grow it yourself.

But what if you don’t have time? Or energy? Or you have a brown thumb? There are farmer’s markets, in some areas, but then you’re paying retail price for all the produce and not really saving much money. There must be another option!

Enter the CSA.

CSA stands for “Community Supported Agriculture.” It means that a farmer partners with members of the community, who pay him a fee at the start of the season and/or promise to work a certain number of hours on his farm in exchange for produce throughout the season. It’s a great way for a novice gardener, or someone without the space or time for a garden to get great fresh, local produce for much cheaper than one would pay at a farmer’s market or grocery store without having to grow it at home.

CSA programs and fees vary widely by area, farmer, etc. Generally, there is one fee and the farmer promises a certain amount of whatever he produces each week. Note: that is “whatever he produces” not “a certain amount of produce.” If there is a drought or a flood or some other disaster that prevents a crop from growing, then the farmer doesn’t provide it.

The CSA members share the risk with the farmer. A friend of mine joined a CSA this year for the first time, and june bugs ate the early crops, so even though most CSAs started in May, hers didn’t start until mid-June. That’s one of the “hazards” of being a CSA member.

Most CSAs cost between $400 and $900 per season. Some farmers offer different types of shares depending on family size or need. For example, a small share might only cost $400 and be enough to feed one or two people who also eat some meat. A large share might cost up to $900 and be enough to feed a family of 5 – 6 who are mainly vegetarians.

Shares vary widely. Sometimes, a farmer might offer a large share for a smaller price because the family is also going to spend 30 hours on his farm, helping to plant, weed, harvest, etc. throughout the season.

Our CSA, specifically, offered one share “amount” (everyone gets the same), but two prices: $575 to pick up at a local farmer’s market and no farm work; and $475 to pick up at the farm and 30 hours of farm work. We chose the latter.

Some of the major benefits of CSAs include:

*No need to have the space for a garden

*No experience necessary (even if you are helping at the farm)

*Knowing exactly where your food comes from

*Teaching your kids where your food comes from and how to help produce it

*Lower prices on excellent, fresh, local produce (usually picked the day you get it)

*A very wide variety of produce, some which may be unfamiliar to you

*The ability (maybe) to request extra of something, or not to get something else

*Enough extra produce to freeze/can, reducing your grocery bill even after the season

There are, of course, some drawbacks:

*Having to drive out to the farm or farmer’s market each week to pick up your share

*Sharing the risk with the farmer (no crop comes in, you don’t get any produce)

*Work on the farm (can be benefit AND drawback, depending on your situation)

There are a few things that I’d like to caution you about, too. Select your CSA carefully.

Here are some criteria for choosing one (and although the season’s already started, many still have some openings):

*Look for an established, reputable CSA. Ask around to see who friends have used previously. Make sure the farmer followed the agreement he set out with them.

*Make sure that all the produce was actually grown on that farm (unfortunately, some are starting to capitalize on the CSA idea and are bringing in produce from other locations for their members)

*Visit the farm so you know exactly how the produce is grown. It doesn’t need to be certified organic, but find a farm that doesn’t spray their crops.

*Check for any hidden fees, and read your contract carefully.

A CSA can be a wonderful and rewarding experience. In only a month and a half, we’ve already gotten maple syrup (uncommon but our farmer happens to produce it), asparagus, many varieties of lettuce, several herbs, and radishes. Soon to come are peas, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, spinach, kale, and lots more! We’ll have enough to freeze and can in addition to eating fresh, which is a HUGE bonus too!

If you can’t or don’t want to garden, look into a CSA. Fresh, local produce without all the work!

Are you (or have you been) a part of a CSA? Do you agree with the pros and cons that were shared?

Image by dreamland.co.nz

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  1. We LOVE our CSA. This is our 4th year and I think it is just getting better and better. Our farmers are very involved with their members, having demos at the farm every other week, showcasing the veggies of that week’s pickup. Last week it was stir fry/sauces, and next week it is salad dressings. Also hosting classes put on by experienced members (one is a local chef!) right at the farm. Canning 101, Indian cooking, Greens 101, etc. You pay a small class fee, spend a couple hours in class, then get a huge lunch, eating all the things the teacher has demonstrated! What’s not to love?

    As far as it being a drawback to go out to the farm every week, in our case it is about a 15 min. drive as the farm is located on 50 acres pretty much in the burbs. The great thing for the farmer is we share his financial burden when say, the potato crop is smaller than average. He doesn’t take a hit, and the members just get less potatoes. Works for him and for us!
    They also offer local, organic or low spray fruits from other farms in the area. Yesterday we could purchase organic strawberries for $38 a flat.
    To us it is a win-win situation!

    .-= Cindy (FarmgirlCyn)´s last blog ..SAY CHEESE!!! =-.

  2. I sure wish there were CSA’s around here. We’re about 25 years behind everything where I live LOL. Seriously though! I have my own garden but it seems to be the year of the bug destruction 🙂 Oh well at least I can laugh (most of the time!)

    Hopefully the CSA idea will catch on around here before 25 years passes. 🙂

  3. I just signed up for a CSA this year and I am LOVING it! This one is only $387 (in Canada) for 22 weeks and I don’t have to do any farm work (not even sure that’s an option). The produce is amazing and actually going to the farm, seeing how it’s grown and whose working the land that our food is coming from is so awesome – my kids love it. And the taste is beyond delicious! I also find I’m wasting less!
    We’ve received all sorts of kinds of lettuce, spinach, chard, dill, basil, beets, baby potatoes, radishes, japanese salad turnips, garlic scapes, zuchinni, carrots, rhubarb, and strawberries. I’m sure I’m missing some and there’s SO much more to come 🙂
    The only downside is it won’t last all year.

  4. we just joined a CSA and we LOVE it! we were fortunate to find a non-profit one who’s fees are based on your income level, so we get a big box of organic veggies (and some melons in the summer) each week for just $15 (i live in southern california… here, this is a GREAT deal). our CSA has no work requirements, which makes life easier (i wouldn’t be opposed to it, but our farm is 2 hours away, that would be difficult!)

    sometimes i wish there was more variety in what we get, but that is why i supplement our box with other produce from the farmers market. the good thing, though, is that i am forced to try new recipes when we get veggies that i have never cooked before. also, our CSA gives us an abundance of leafy greens, which i have always wanted to use more because they are super healthy and nutrient packed.
    .-= sarah´s last blog ..simply tasty: artichoke dip =-.

  5. I’m in the same CSA as FarmGirlCyn, and we have no work requirements, and it’s only 5 minutes away from my house 🙂 So there’s really no downside that I can see, unless you are a super picky eater and don’t cook at all. Ours is well established, so even if it’s a bad crop for one thing, the others tend to make up for it.
    .-= Wendy (The Local Cook)´s last blog ..Top 10 Things to Do with Random Vegetables =-.

  6. We’re on our second year of being part of a CSA farm. And actually, this is our second farm as well– the first was great but a little higher priced. Prices in our area are actually really affordable (under $300 for the current season, and under $400 at the farm we belonged to last year), and we get produce nearly year round thanks to the temperate CA coastline climate. I feel very fortunate to have access to all the wonderful produce we have here!

  7. We just joined a CSA (Jubilee Farms in Carnation, WA) and so far love it. There’s just two of us who work full time, so we opted for the delivery close to my husband’s work for an extra $5 a week. I love that it forces you to try new things and figure out how to include veggies at every meal!

    This season in Seattle has been uncommonly wet and cold, so we recieved an apology note from the farmer along with our first box…but in it was still more than we were able to finish in a week! Definitely worth the money, and knowing it helps the farmers out through lean times as well as times of plenty is a good thing (to quote Martha).
    .-= Kait Palmer´s last blog ..My Parents with me in Spirit…or on a Sign… =-.

  8. We absolutely love our CSA as well. I tried to convince hubby to get it three years, and this is our first year we’ve been involved with it.
    We have the option that is the “biggest”, the Veggie Lovers Family 4+ box, which we split 50% with my mother. The remaining 50% of produce is SO MUCH that we are often eating the last little bits of veggies the day we go pick up our next week’s supply. For 280$ for the season of twenty weeks, and the amount of food we always get (in our HALF box, mind you) it is worth every.single.penny. If we were to buy this MUCH and the more UNCOMMON and nutritious veggies, we’d be spending MUCH more than the $11/week it roughly breaks down to.
    Our organization (CommunityCROPS.org) also supports community gardens around town, and has the option to donate excess or an entire season’s worth of produce to families in need.
    Sarah M

  9. We just started a CSA this year, and we love it! Ours is an unusual one in that we have some flexibility in what is in our box, we can swap stuff out, and they are able to make sure we never get potatoes or peanuts in our box – important for allergies.

    We are also in the wonderful position of being a few minutes away from a pick up site – my husband picks up the box on his way home from work!

    We can’t grow a garden in our rental this year, and next year when we buy a home we will likely not have a big enough yard to grow all we would like, so this really works for us!

  10. I am thankful for the CSA we have joined, and I know several people have frowned upon the type of CSA we are involved in (as mentioned), but it is our only choice. We joined a CSA that delivers year round and no- all the food does not come directly from their farm, they try to keep it to their farm and surrounding NW. Sometimes they do get from farther away. If possible I would love a local CSA and more of the food come directly from one farm, but living on an island in Alaska, I am just grateful they have offered to ship our way!! It is the closest reality we have here and our family tries new foods and enjoy the excitement of what our next box will bring!

  11. Haha! I’m trying to imagine how much food one would get from a purely local Alaskan CSA. *giggles!*
    We didn’t have the greatest experience the year we did a CSA. It could have been the wet Iowa summer we had (flood year), but I was of the impression that the farmer’s wife got over excited and oversold shares. Oh, well! I really love going to the farmer’s market instead twice a week with my girls. My three year old has her own set of favorite vendors! 🙂
    .-= Ambre´s last blog ..Berry Picking- A Gift From God =-.

  12. This is our second year in a CSA, and we really enjoyed it last year. I’m so jealous of everyone who has been getting produce since May! Our first pick up is Wednesday (June 30). The season is 18 weeks, and our veggie half-share is $300 ($16.67/week). We also got a half-share of fruit, which is a box every other week (9 weeks), and it cost $220 ($24.44/week). There are additional 4 week semi-monthly storage veggie and fruit shares for November and December, which we also purchased ($50 veggie, $55 fruit).

    Our farm offers half or full shares, and a standard or epicurean choice for both the veggie and fruit boxes. The epicurean shares are slightly more expensive, and include smaller portions of everything in the basic share plus additional gourmet items.

    Our farm became certified organic this year. All the veggies come from the farm. The fruits come from local farms as much as possible, but they do supplement with organic fruit that is not local. I think it’s fine for CSA’s to bring in products when necessary, as long as they are honest with their members about it up front. That said, I would not join a CSA that did not grow most of their own produce unless I had no other choice.

    We can pick up at the farm, or at drop points. Fortunately for us there is a drop point at the health food store right around the corner from us. The farm is about an hour away. There are no work on the farm options, but they will give a free share to anyone who will pick up at the farm and be a drop point for other members in areas where there is no drop point.

    I can’t wait for Wednesday!!! 🙂

  13. We just joined a CSA this summer and are eagerly awaiting our first box. The Pacific Northwest has endured a particularly cloudy, cool and rainy spring and early summer, so nothing’s producing well right now. I managed to get some mint out of my own garden, but that’s about it. :/

    So this year is an experiment. We’ll see how we like it, whether the selection is usable and how much it actually saves us money. But I’m excited to try!
    .-= Newlywed & Unemployed´s last blog ..Grandpas Death Was a Bigger Deal Than I Thought =-.

  14. This year we have done both a CSA as well as an organic produce buying co-op. Maybe a few weeks into it is not the best time for me to comment, but I would say that a downside is getting things you/your family don’t actually like. For example: beets. We got a big bunch of them two weeks in a row. We’re getting mixed salad greens & lettuces every week, but I’m the only one in my family who regularly eats salads, so I have to eat salad at least once a day. If you’re going to do a CSA share make sure you like lots of greens: raw greens, cooked greens (we’re getting things like bok choy, mustard greens, beet greens, etc. and we don’t care for cooked greens, though I mix a little in my eggs). It can feel like a waste of money (or punishment) when you’re getting food you don’t actually like or use.

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