Friday, September 24, 2010

CSAs - huh?

I got a watermelon for my weekly CSA share, and was wondering what else we could do with it besides eat it, since the dang thing weighed about 20 pounds.

Warning: informative rant ahead.

"What is a CSA?" you ask.

Let me tell you.  CSA stands for "Community Supported Agriculture" and until late last year, I had NO idea they existed.  I feel like I was living in the Middle Ages and just entered the Renaissance.

Simply explained, let me quote the Federal Government, because for once they actually were able to form a cohesive paragraph that makes sense:
Community Supported Agriculture consists of a community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation so that the farmland becomes, either legally or spiritually, the community's farm, with the growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the risks and benefits of food production. Typically, members or "share-holders" of the farm or garden pledge in advance to cover the anticipated costs of the farm operation and farmer's salary. In return, they receive shares in the farm's bounty throughout the growing season, as well as satisfaction gained from reconnecting to the land and participating directly in food production. Members also share in the risks of farming, including poor harvests due to unfavorable weather or pests. By direct sales to community members, who have provided the farmer with working capital in advance, growers receive better prices for their crops, gain some financial security, and are relieved of much of the burden of marketing.
How great is that?  You are supporting your community, AND getting stuff that was  picked within a day or two of your receiving it, that was probably grown with little/no pesticides.  Yes, you share the "risk" of poor harvests, but the farmers know what they are doing, and the risk is minimal compared to the benefits you get.  For about $35/week, I get an assortment of 8 types of fresh fruits and veggies (enough to feed 4), along with a loaf of bread AND farm fresh eggs - oh - and I know MY eggs aren't on the Federal Gov't recall list  :-P  My CSA is a "value added" CSA - they  partner with local meat/dairy/agricultural farms, so I can also buy fresh cheese, beef, chicken, pork, and sometimes lamb.  I am in nutritional heaven :) And I have a confession to make - when I go to the grocery store, I secretly feel smug walking past all those poor people in the produce aisle that don't know what they are missing.  I admit it!

local made products - jams, soaps, etc.
If you haven't heard of CSAs, I suggest going HERE  and HERE to find out more about them, and to get a list of CSAs in your area.  In fact at the last link,, I found MY CSA, Breezy Willow Farm.

I hope I have you stoked about CSAs now...let me give you a few tips to help you make the right choice when choosing one.

  1. Find out the cost. (this varies)
  2. Find out how long the commitment is (also varies- mine is 24 weeks)
  3. Find out what you get (that also varies) and the amount. Don't expect an exact amount or monthly list of fruits/veggies - but they should tell you the number of items you'll get each week, and how much your share will feed, for example - "8 different items, that will feed a family of 4."  Be sure to ask what an "item" is...There is a CSA (not mine) that counts herbs as an "item" :-P  Most CSAs will have some sort of list on their website so you can get a feel for what is offered.  Don't be put off by stuff you don't recognize - it may be delish.  I never had kale until I joined my CSA - now I am hooked on Kale Chips! (recipe will follow in the next blog post or two)
  4. Find out if they partner with other farms in the area, or are a "value added" CSA.  If they are, you may have a wider variety of things being offered in addition to just veggies/fruits.
  5. Find out if they have work shares, if you don't mind getting sweaty and sometimes dirty.  You may be able to work on the farm for a few hours/week in exchange for your weekly share.  The work can be anything from loading a truck for a remote site pick up, to weeding, planting, or boxing/bagging shares.  Again, it varies.  But please don't go expecting to keep your manicure and wear that brand new white shirt you just bought.  Get real - wear old clothes and sneakers, and expect to get dirty and/or sweaty.  If you can't deal with this, then don't volunteer :)  A work share is also a commitment.  Make sure you can stick it out to the end.  If you can't make it one week, get a replacement...Remember you are working each week for YOUR share.
Now, this is what you, as a CSA member should expect:
  1. An assortment of fruits and veggies each week based upon what is ready to be harvested.  This means you have to go with the flow.  Sometimes you'll get a few weeks of one particular item if they have a bumper crop, but that just gets your creative juices flowing, and the freezer IS your friend!  They may not have those plums you ADORED for long, because they have a short growing season.  Ask questions - you'll find that farmers are intelligent, passionate, and willing to share their knowledge with you.
  2. A healthier diet!
  3. Produce that has minimal to no pesticides.
  4. Produce that has been picked within a day or two of your receiving it, not sitting on a truck for two weeks.
  5. A variety of fruits and veggies you will NOT find in your local supermarket.
  6. You'll spend less at the grocery store, even if you pay for your share instead of working it off.

 This is a commitment.  The farmers plant and plan for the season based upon the number of shares they have.  Please don't leave them high and dry.  I have to admit, I was a little hesitant to step into my CSA waters, because of the 24 week obligation - that's almost half a year.  I am SO happy I did though!  Our family has never had healthier food in the house, I get to play with stuff I've never had before and I get varieties of things I never see in the supermarket.  I cajoled Ken and Jason to let me buy the last few dinosaur plums they had lying around because I was so in love with them.  I rarely bought plums in the supermarket because I did not care for them.  These are delicious.  Meg just called me from college complaining about the peaches she bought at the local supermarket.  She couldn't eat them.  The CSA has spoiled her rotten (in a good way!) luckily, there is a wonderful farm just 5 miles from campus that she can get her fresh picked fix :)

When you go to pick up your share, if there is something you like, ASK if you can buy extra -  you sometimes can, especially if they had a bumper crop.  If you like to can or freeze, ask if they have any seconds.  It never hurts to ask :)

My CSA donates extra produce to the local food bank.  How great is that? :)

If there are just two of you - consider splitting a share with another couple.  Take the CSA plunge!  You may find some new foods you like, you'll definitely be eating healthier, and you'll be supporting your neighbors :-)

Willow - you can see he sometimes like to help out on pick up days at the farm :)

1 comment:

  1. that's awesome!
    megs kinda told me about it and it's so neat.
    i would be smug in the grocery store too :P