The idea of community supported agriculture is not new, but is becoming increasingly more popular. As the farm-to-form movement continues to grow, small-scale farmers are finding success in the CSA model.
Is it right for you? And what are the benefits and pitfalls? These are my own thoughts and opinions but perhaps I can give you a little guidance.
If you're asking, "What is a CSA?" let me briefly explain. In return for the cost of a monthly "share" and a mutually agreed-upon pickup location, members receive a weekly delivery of a farm's produce.
Often there are also add-on items such as herbs, flowers, or additional products that the farmer makes from his or her other farm products. What is offered in the weekly share can and will differ as the seasons change, which adds to the fun of the shared-risk venture.
Whoa... wait... I said "risk." Yes, this is a shared-risk investment. As everyone knows farms are not immune to the whims of Mother Nature. What a farm promises in their share may not grow due to weather or any other unforeseen circumstance.
Or perhaps, enough didn't grow to fulfill everyone's share. Usually, the farmer will substitute with an equally valuable product but sometimes even the backup pickings can be slim. This is the shared-risk a member understands.
Photo by Wikimedia/Baileynorwood.
However, with any risk there are significant opportunities for reward. Knowing where your food comes from, how it is grown and raised, and getting to know the farmer who provides it are just some of the benefits that come immediately to mind. Your money goes straight to the producer of the goods, and allows for small businesses to sustain and flourish.
Often, in return for the purchase of your share, the farmer will hold a fun family event on their farm as another incentive, so you get to see where your food comes from first hand. It really is an amazing venture.
Now for the hardest part... determining the best CSA for you. The best CSA is where you feel you are getting products you can use for a fair price.
If you know, for example, you don't like goat's milk, you wouldn't want to pick a CSA where goat's milk products are prominently featured! You'll always get a mix of products with a CSA, and those should be clearly spelled out within the agreement what products the farmer is offering, so it should be easy to pick a CSA where you'll enjoy a majority of what is offered in the share.
Also important is the pickup time and location. You want to be sure you are able to be at the location at the advertised times to pick up your shares. Farmers try to make multiple family-friendly pickup options, so look around and see what works for you.
Where to look? Of course the internet has made things a little easier for you! Local Harvest provides a wealth of information as well as a CSA-finder on its website. On its pages you will find good information on how to choose a CSA, some questions to ask, and more about the "shared-risk" concept. You can also use its"finder" to find farms and farmer's markets in your area.
One more tip — use social media like Pinterest to find recipes for unique vegetables that come in your CSA share. I found quite a few sites with easy recipes by searching "Recipes CSA." Have fun with it — maybe you'll find a new family favorite!