Want to support your local farmers? Like the idea of having direct access to fresh, high quality, locally grown produce? Interested to do a little more experimenting in your kitchen? If so, we recommend looking into joining the rapidly growing movement called Community Supported Agriculture, also known as CSA.
What is a CSA?
More than anything, CSAs are about community. It involves community members committing to a partnership with a local farmer (or group of farmers). In this partnership, the community members each purchase a share of the farm in advance to cover the farmer’s operating costs and salary. In return, they receive shares of produce throughout the growing season. These shares are often delivered weekly. CSA shares vary greatly in their cost and what they include. A share could cost you anywhere from $200 to $700 and include veggies, fruit, eggs, meat, cheese, bread, or some combination of these things. If you’re concerned about eating all the produce – consider asking if your farmer offers half-shares or find a friend to share your weekly box of goodies with!
Many CSA farms also offer the option of including produce from other local farms, which can enhance variety. The structure of different CSA farms may vary greatly in terms of who coordinates the shares and how they work – but all United States CSAs share the aforementioned characteristics. Some programs even have high-tech online systems where one can choose the produce they’ll receive, skip weeks they’ll be out of town, and add additional goods to round out the offerings.
For the past 50 or so years, corporate agribusinesses have dominated agriculture in the U.S. The industrial farming methods used by these enormous corporations have supplanted small family farms and created a rift between the consumer and his or her food. Community Supported Agriculture started popping up in the U.S. in the 1980’s, and we now have over 13,000 CSA farms throughout the nation. Community Supported Agriculture offers us a chance to build a strong, sustainable food system and to become more invested (literally) in our food.
How does your CSA help local farmers?
- Helps small farms afford their spring planting costs.
- Relieves the burden of having to independently finance farm operations, which often includes relying on bank loans.
- Ensures a core collection of customers, guaranteeing initial sales for the season.
- Lessens the impact of a single unfruitful harvest or external crisis, as the community members or “shareholders” share the risk.
- Cuts out the middleman, lowering cost.
How does your CSA benefit you and your community?
- You gain direct access to regular deliveries of fresh, healthy produce.
- You know where your food comes from, and often are offered frequent opportunities to visit or help on the farm.
- Connects people back to the earth and the food they eat.
- Strengthens the local economy.
- Often CSAs end up being less expensive in the long run than purchasing the same vegetables at market weekly.
Looking for a CSA in your area?
There are plenty of ways find a CSA in your area or find out more about the different options. Of course we always suggest stopping by your local farmers market and asking the farmers who has a CSA – there’s nothing like choosing your CSA in person instead of online! There are plenty of online resources for finding a CSA as well. Do a search for local resources in your area, or check out some of these more national options: Local Harvest, Rural Bounty, USDA, Real Time Farms.
What to do with your CSA veggies?
Lots of folks sign up for CSA shares as an early step in getting more local food into their homes, and quickly get a little overwhelmed by all the veggies. Don’t fear though – there are plenty of things to do with excess! Increasing your daily vegetable intake is a great way to improve your overall health. Plus, with a little creativity many CSA items can be preserved for eating in the winter when less is available locally.
Here are some great resources for learning to eat with a CSA share:
- The Kitchn provides some great tips on how to approach cooking with a CSA share as opposed to a weekly trip to the market or store.
- This Pintrest board is full of great recipes for using some of those overly abundant veggies!
- And of course Buzzfeed put together this amusing yet useful guide to making the most of some common CSA veggies that many folks aren’t used to having around the house.