"CSA" stands for Community Supported Agriculture, a program where you can invest in a local farm early in the season in exchange for weekly veggie shares throughout a given season (most commonly summer and fall). If you're trying to decide whether to purchase a CSA share, below are some questions to ask yourself.
Is a CSA worth it?
I wondered the same thing before I joined my first CSA. The upfront cost seemed daunting as a fresh college grad, and I was still unsure if I would be able to use up all the veggies as one person. CSAs can be an amazing way to eat more vegetables while supporting local organic farmers, but it may not be a good fit for everyone in all seasons of life. In this post, I'll dig into what CSAs are and the important questions to ask yourself if you're considering joining.
- First of all... what is a CSA?
- Do you value high-quality produce with real, incredible flavor?
- Do you want to support local farms or have a relationship with the person producing your food?
- Are you looking for ways to reduce your carbon footprint?
- Do you aspire to support organic and sustainable farming/eating?
- Do you want to experience cooking and tasting new types of produce?
- Are you open to planning your meals around veggies and seasonal produce?
- Are you open to letting go of some control over your weekly menu plan?
- Do fresh vegetables need to be a bargain?
- Can your lifestyle accommodate a weekly or biweekly pick-up, plus time to cook?
- So, is a CSA right for you?
- CSA Resources
First of all... what is a CSA?
'CSA' stands for Community Supported Agriculture, which is where individuals pay an upfront cost to join a local farm (i.e. purchase a CSA 'share'), which helps fund what farmers need to grow produce for the season. Come June, the farm begins harvesting its produce and dividing up veggies into CSA boxes for the individuals that invested. The shares are delivered on a weekly or biweekly basis to specified drop-off sites, where you can pick up your box and enjoy the fresh produce!
The beauty of CSAs is in how a community supports its local organic farms in exchange for the beautiful produce. CSAs are a great way to eat more vegetables and cook in a plant-centric way, whether you are vegetarian, vegan, or not. Plus, by eating local, you are not only eating the most delicious and nutritious produce, but you're also reducing the waste and carbon emissions produced by transporting food across the country. Soooo CSAs are pretty darn cool!
That said, below are some questions you can ask yourself to make sure a CSA is right for you in your current season of life.
Do you value high-quality produce with real, incredible flavor?
There is no doubt that a grocery store tomato doesn’t even come close to the delicious aroma and flavor of a fresh garden tomato. In Wisconsin, it’s extra special to finally access fresh garden veggies again after long winters. If eating these high quality, flavorful veggies and fruits brings you joy, then a CSA is a great way to have veggie and fruit boxes curated for you every week based on what’s in season.
Because I enjoy and prioritize eating and cooking lots of vegetables and fruits, I feel like I get tons of value out of high quality produce. And while I still like going to local farm stands or markets to pick out my own veggies, it’s convenient to have most of them boxed up and ready for me!
Do you want to support local farms or have a relationship with the person producing your food?
This may not matter so much to everyone, and that’s okay! Typically CSAs will have at least an introductory page on their website about the family growing your food. In fact, many host events throughout the season where you get the opportunity to meet your farmers and other community members who enjoy fresh, local produce.
For me, I love feeling a sense of community and gratitude for the people who grew my food!
Are you looking for ways to reduce your carbon footprint?
When food travels a long way, it loses some of its nutritive aspects and flavor, and we emit more CO2 into the environment by transporting it. The more we can eat locally, the more we reduce our carbon footprints.
Do you aspire to support organic and sustainable farming/eating?
Organic farming is about treating our soil with love and care, so that we can continue to grow food each year. When we farm with certain pesticides and non-organic methods, the soil becomes less fertile over time until we can no longer grow on that land. Joining a CSA will help you support organic farming and sustainable use of soil.
Do you want to experience cooking and tasting new types of produce?
CSA boxes are packed with different kinds of produce, so you’re bound to get a vegetable you've never heard of before. I’ll never forget the first time I picked up a Jerusalem artichoke and had absolutely no idea what to do with it! If you enjoy trying new foods, you'll enjoy that CSAs introduce you to new fruits, veggies, and cooking methods. For those who are hesitant to try new foods, it might make more sense to split a share with someone, or go to the farmers market where you can pick out your veggies 🙂
Are you open to planning your meals around veggies and seasonal produce?
This is often referred to as eating “the CSA way". Essentially, it means that you’re going to have a lot of veggies to cook and eat, and they'll be what’s in season. Naturally, your meals will be more plant-focused and seasonal so that you can use up your CSA produce.
The relationship between what nutrients our bodies need each season and what the Earth provides us is no coincidence! To me, it’s fun to celebrate that connection to nature by embracing seasonal produce. If this excites you, a CSA could be a fun and nourishing experience!
Are you open to letting go of some control over your weekly menu plan?
A CSA does require letting go of control over your weekly menu plan because your box is based on seasonal produce. You might receive vegetables you don’t love as much as others, or you might receive vegetables you have never heard of. If this gives you anxiety, you can either try a CSA for personal growth, or you can always support local farmers by getting your produce at the farmers market.
If you are okay with letting go of control and being prepared to make plans for your veggies once you get your box, then a CSA is totally worth a try. Many CSAs will contact you with a list of what will be in your box, so you'll be able to plan ahead. Additionally, there are some CSAs that allow some customization of boxes if there are veggies you truly dislike.
Finally, there is a risk that some weeks could yield less produce than other weeks due to environmental factors (such as excessive rain). This is part of the risk we share with our local farmers by purchasing a CSA share. In reality, it has always been a risky for farmers to grow our food, because they don’t have control over the weather and how it will impact crops. By paying for the produce upfront, we invest in the farmers and ensure that they get paid for the work they’re doing, which helps protect their livelihood.
Do fresh vegetables need to be a bargain?
The upfront cost of a CSA can be intimidating and is infeasible for some. For instance, my CSA costs $400 for a biweekly share, which includes 10 boxes from June through October. The weekly share costs close to $800 (20 boxes). Some CSAs will allow for payment plans, so that you can make the cost more palatable while still investing in the farmer ahead of the growing season.
I have found that an every other week share is perfect for me and my family. The boxes are PACKED with produce, and the price comes down to $40 per box… which is really $20 per week on vegetables. We definitely spend that at the grocery store! For high quality produce, I think this is an incredible deal.
Another option to help foot the upfront cost is to split a share with one or two others that you know!
Can your lifestyle accommodate a weekly or biweekly pick-up, plus time to cook?
Finally, time to realistically consider whether your lifestyle can accommodate a CSA. Your box will be delivered to one place every week (or every other week), and you will need to be able to go pick it up. Also, you'll need to wash and store the veggies after picking them up, plus meal plan and cook.
If you love doing that stuff and have time, then the CSA lifestyle will fit you perfectly! On the other hand, if you travel a lot for work or just don’t have the time to pick up food and prepare it, a CSA might be a more stressful experience for you.
So, is a CSA right for you?
My perspective is that participating in a CSA is not an all-or-nothing decision 🙂
If you find that a CSA may not be realistic or a good fit for you, you can still access high quality produce and support local farmers by purchasing from your local shops and farmers markets. Additionally, you could always ask a friend or family member if they’re up for splitting a CSA with you. That way, you can share the cost, plus pick up a box once a month instead of every week.
As ya'll know, I'm obsessed with eating and cooking veggies and fruits, so I do a combination of everything. An every-other-week CSA share provides me with the convenience of having all my veggies harvested and boxed up for me. Meanwhile, farm stands and farmers markets supplement my veggie shares with additional produce if needed. During long Wisconsin winters, we rely mostly on conventional grocery store produce… which is why I appreciate spring, summer, and fall fresh produce so much!
Comment below with your thoughts! Have you tried a CSA before? Do you want to?
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