CSA Community Supported Agriculture | Everything You Need to Know
This post is designed to introduce you to CSA Community Supported Agriculture and give you everything you need to know to choose well and be a successful share member.
So, you’ve been going to the farmers’ market for years. You keep hearing about CSAs. At the farmers’ market, you keep seeing people showing up with their shopping bags and having them filled while no money changes hands. Perhaps you always buy the same items at the market and wish you were just a little more adventurous. Or, you often don’t have time to make it to the farmers’ market every week.
You probably wish you had an easier way to get fresh, local produce into your fridge and weekly meal plans.
Choosing fresh and local produce is the cornerstone of seasonal living. Meal prep involves every other aspect of our seasonal life and should be a priority for seeking a more seasonal lifestyle.
It’s time you looked into a way to participate in your local farmer’s harvests on a regular basis. This post will help you learn how to do just that. There’s also a freebie download in the Seasonal Living Resource Library of my Top 5 Cookbooks You Need to get the Most Value from Your CSA. Read on to find out how to access the library for the download and lots of other seasonal living resources.
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
What are CSA’s?
CSA is an acronym that stands for Community Supported Agriculture. In general, a CSA is a collective of households who buy into the harvest of a farm for a specified period of time. Usually, share members pay in advance for their share and this helps the farmer manage expenses and cash flow. Often, members are asked to assume some of the risks of the season. There are no guarantees with most CSA’s.
To make sure you understand what those risks are, you should make a point of visiting the farm you choose to join. Often, farms will have open houses at the beginning of the season, but they will also schedule a time for you to take a personal tour of the farm. CSAs offer the opportunity for a personal connection between the farmer and the member. Take advantage of this.
Every farm has its own model.
Here at Stony Ridge Farm, we simply call our program a Farm Share. This year we are taking a break, but usually, the average commitment for our members is 10 weeks, and we offer share opportunities 40 weeks of the year. Since the CSA business model took off in the United States in the 1970s farms have continued to customize their models.
Some farms ask members to volunteer for workdays in addition to their membership fee. Others have add-on products that allow members to expand their weekly allotment to meet the needs of their family. Some, like ours, offer home delivery of shares.
Every share member has their own way of participating.
Every household is different. Is it a single person household? A family with 2 working parents? Is it a large family with one work-from-home adult? Here are 5 questions to ask yourself when choosing a farm share:
- What is the production model of the farm? Is it conventional or organic? Are there eggs included in the share? How about meat?
- How much food will I receive in each share?
- What happens when I’m on vacation or life gets in the way of me picking up my share? Can I pause that week?
- How do I budget for my farm share? Are there payment options?
- How will I schedule my week and organize my kitchen to accommodate the food and ensure it is used without waste?
Going through the process of consciously answering these questions will make your weekly schedule less stressful and it will help the farmer have the right mix of members in her farm share. Make sure you are setting the whole endeavor up for a win-win!
Cookbooks are an Essential Component of CSA Success
Cookbooks are essential for getting the greatest value from your CSA Community Supported Agriculture share. They are better than web-based resources because cookbooks are written on themes, and those themes are explored in depth with each chapter and recipe. I have a list of My Top 5 Super Useful Cookbooks you Need to get the Most out of Your CSA in the resource library. It’s super useful and free, just sign up for access with the form at the bottom of the post!
How can I find a CSA program that is right for me?
With the advent of the internet, joining a farm share program is much easier because there are online databases that allow for search by zip code and region. This is much easier than the pre-net days when word-of-mouth and print ads in newspapers were how farmers spread the word about their programs.
Here are 5 resources to help you with your search:
- The CSA Day Directory: this interactive map organized by Small Farm Central will help you identify farms in your area participating in CSA Day.
- Local Harvest: an online database of farms in the United States offering CSAs.
- Eat Well Guide: a curated directory of over 25,000 hand-picked restaurants, farms, and markets that source local, sustainable food.
- Local publications, magazines, and newspapers will usually have articles dedicated to the local food scene. Check weekly beginning in February and extending through the growing season to keep up with what’s on offer.
- Your local farmers’ markets: visit your local markets to meet farmers and learn which ones offer a farm share program. Local Harvest also has an interactive directory of local markets.
So, go ahead and commit to a CSA Comunity Supported Agriculture program for the season. That commitment isn’t only to the farm. With a regular farm share delivery, you commit to your health and the health of your family. Without any extra effort, you commit to the local economy, and to the vibrancy of your community!
Be a Model CSA Community Supported Agriculture Member
Farmers work hard…really hard. Farm share members should and can be the reward for all that hard work. I can tell you from first-hand experience that customers who keep the following ruled have made my day. Those share members who consistently break these basic rules of CSA etiquette have caused me to struggle with resentment and regret. We farmers work to get food to people. When that doesn’t happen, and it is the thick of the growing season, it’s pretty awful.
So, I’m here to help you bring sunshine into your farmer’s life. Follow these 5 simple rules of CSA etiquette and be your farmer’s favorite customer. You never know, she may think of you first when there’s surplus! I know I do.
- Show up every week on time.
- Send an email when you are going to miss a week or have a friend pick up your share. When the farm share box is packed, it is difficult to re-home the food if it’s not picked up.
- Don’t ask for special pick-up or delivery options. It’s just about impossible to keep track of every customer’s preference and need.
- Pay your bill on time, especially if the farmer has given you a customized payment option. Bookkeeping on top of crop cultivation and harvest is very challenging.
- If you are happy, spread the word! The average retention rate for CSA Community Supported Agriculture programs is 50%. Your good word can help keep a farm in the black.
Enjoying the Food
Make time each week to explore the contents of your farm share. Take in the beauty of freshly harvested vegetables. The aesthetics of food is as nourishing as consuming it, in my opinion. Honestly, I don’t think there is anything in life as beautiful as a perfect beet with the greens. Here are basic skills that will help you use and not waste your share items:
- Root vegetables can be roasted and refrigerated. Then, add them to meals as sides, salad toppings, and sandwich ingredients throughout the week. For examples, see the meal plans in the resource library.
- Keep exceptionally good olive oil on hand in the spring and fall when shares are heavy with salad greens. I don’t even make salad dressing during those times. I simply pour on that peppery olive oil and a drizzle of balsamic. Those fresh greens will do their part to make a tasty meal for you.
- Learn how to braise. This will help you use and freeze cooking greens like kale, collard, and chard which are also plentiful in the spring and fall. I braise a huge pot of collars each spring and freeze them in one-meal portions. There’s a point in August where I start to crave the cooking greens, and I have them handy for my meals to meet the need.
- Learn how to ferment. This is the best food preservation process. it is safer and more nutritional that hot water bath canning, and more efficient than freezing (as it doesn’t rely on electricity). There’s also a list of must-have supplies for fermenting in the resource library.
- Remember to access the resource library for my list of cookbooks to make sure you get the most from your farm share.
Seasonal Living Resource Library
Would you like to have instant access to a free seasonal living resource library? It offers you the information you need to get the most from your CSA farm share and helps you with your seasonal eating goals. Sign up below, and I’ll send you the password to gain instant access to our Seasonal Living Resource Library. Thre are unique and free downloads to help with food, garden, home, and wellness questions in your seasonal living endeavors. Remeber to check out my Top 5 Super Useful Cookbooks to get the Most out of Your CSA in the resource library.