What is a CSA?

It’s Spring, and I am already planning my garden.  I have six raised beds and several large containers to grow my food.  Growing tomatoes and peppers are my favorite, but I also grow a variety of lettuce, kale, radish, carrots, beets, potatoes, along with berries and herbs.  

I typically purchase all other in-season vegetables at a local farm to ensure that I have fresh, nutrient-dense produce.  

I understand that not everyone has the time or the want to grow their food, so
what would you say if I told you that you could get a weekly box of ultra-fresh, flavor to the max, organic, nutrient-dense produce at a reasonable price all while supporting your local farmers?  It isn’t a ploy; this is Community Supported Agriculture.

Community Supported Agriculture, colloquially known as a CSA, is a unique agreement between a farm and the local community.  Members pay in advance each year for a weekly share of farm grown produce. As members of a CSA, you join with the farmers in both the benefits — bountiful crops, open space, community, produce variety, direct relationship with farmers, access to u-pick, etc. — and the risks — crop failure, bad weather, disease outbreaks, weeds (1). 

Each week you will have the privilege of eating vibrant, just-harvested produce. Say goodbye to wilted greens and tasteless tomatoes. Your produce will be harvested when it’s ripe and, in most cases, find its way into your kitchen within a day of being picked. This means better flavor and more nutrient-rich produce.

With a CSA share, you can expect the freshest, most local produce and exposure to new vegetables (have you ever tried broccolini? You’ll want to).  You will have an opportunity to learn more about where your food comes from, a chance to grow relationships with like-minded community members, and even the possibility to volunteer on the farm for a free or discounted share. 

You’ll also find that many local farms have other offerings, such as honey from their own bees, a meat share if they raise cattle, and beautiful eggs from pasture-raised chickens.

Now that you’re drooling over the thought of freshly picked organic kale for dinner tonight, how do you find your very own local crop share? The first step would be to visit your local farmers’ market. Chances are, any farm with a CSA program will also have a farm stand. The second step is an excellent online resource called Local Harvest (localharvest.org). Run by a small team of longtime food activists and passionate foodies, Local Harvest is a national directory that lists over 30,000 family farms and farmers markets, along with restaurants and grocery stores that feature local food. (2) If those first two options don’t yield positive results, then do a quick internet search. 

You’ll find that the details of each farm’s CSA will vary, but generally speaking, most will offer either a full or half share. Typically, a full share will range from $400.00 to 700.00 and start in early Spring, ending around Thanksgiving. I encourage you to either call or stop by your local farm to ask them about share prices, amounts of produce distributed, and the length of the season.

Assuming you’ve been successful in your search for a local CSA, you’re likely wondering how to make the most of your share? Because we’re talking about only local, in-season produce, each box will truly vary from week to week. The harvest determines what and how much you will get. That’s the charm of a crop share. It provides a fantastic opportunity to exercise your creativity in the kitchen, try new recipes, explore new cooking methods, and challenge yourself to make those weekly repeats in a few different ways. 

If you find yourself with too much basil? Freeze some pesto. An overabundance of zucchini? Bake some bread. Something you don’t like? Share with a friend. 

So, what are you waiting for? Your ultra-fresh, flavor to the max, organic, nutrient-dense produce is in season. Get out there and crop share! 


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