If you’re here, you are most likely working towards creating a healthier lifestyle for yourself and/or your family. While the options for sourcing food these days are more diverse than ever, it can still feel complicated, overwhelming, and challenging (depending on where you live) to find seasonal, local, and organic produce.
That’s why I LOVE that one of the simplest way to streamline this effort can actually be one of the most simple: joining a CSA program through a local farm.
Investing in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) membership might be one of the most impactful things you can do to eat more local and seasonal fresh foods and streamline your produce shopping efforts while also supporting your local food economy and farmers and reducing the environmental impact and carbon footprint of your food. The most difficult part can be doing the initial research needed to find a local farm that is the right fit for you!
That is exactly why I created this guide to help you in your research process so you can get on all the wonderful health, wellness, and community benefits of being a CSA member. Let’s get to it!
What is Community Supported Agriculture?
According to the USDA, “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.”
The model of a CSA often looks a little like this…
Before the growing season begins, members invest in a portion of the farm’s production costs in exchange for regular shares of the farm’s bounty over the course of the growing season. Through this model, members assist farmer in upfront working capital to help them pay for seeds, equipment, and labor, as well as ensuring the farm better crop prices and a direct market for all they produce, reducing the financial risk of the operation. In exchange, members get to be more engaged in where and how their food is grown, eat freshly-picked produce that is harvested locally and seasonally.
WHY JOIN A CSA
Joining a CSA is such an incredible and streamline way to shift your consumption habits for better health, better community, and better environmental practices.
Here are just a few reasons to consider joining a CSA…
- You’ll end up eating way more seasonal, local, and diverse produce and fewer chemicals (if you chose a farm that uses organic practices…not all farms might be “certified” organic, but may use these practices – ask questions about their growing practices!)
- You’ll have the opportunity to try all sorts of new recipes featuring vegetables, greens, and herbs that were perhaps not part of your regular routine
- You’ll get more creative in incorporating vegetables into your diet in general so that your share doesn’t go to waste!
- You’ll get to experience the truly amazing difference of freshly picked vegetables like vine-ripened tomatoes and how profoundly more delicious they are than the grocery store varieties
- You’ll ensure better quality of life and business for farmers in your local community by reducing risk and providing financial capital. CSA programs also provide farmer’s with financial credibility as they are seen of less of a risk to lenders.
- You’ll have the opportunity to learn where and how food is grown in your region and what it looks like coming out of the ground (think: radish greens, carrot tops, and beet greens!)
- You may have the opportunity to visit the farm and get to know your farmers! There is nothing better than having a direct relationship with someone who produces something so essential to our lives as our food.
- You have an opportunity to regularly talk with children, family, and friends about the beauty of locally produced food and harvests
- Many CSAs also have relationships with other farms that produce things like eggs, bread, mushrooms, flowers etc. so you’ll get to know other local producers as well!
- You’ll drastically reduce the carbon footprint of your food (Did you know that the average distance that fresh produce travels in the United States from farm to consumer is 1,500 miles?)
- You’ll support farms that often use less chemicals that impact the environment in the form of chemical and pesticide runoffs that impact our waterways and wildlife
- You’ll help support farms that plant a variety of crops (rather than a monoculture) encouraging and supporting agrodiversity. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 75% of our food comes from just 12 plants globally and 60% comes just from rice, corn, and wheat. Ensuring genetic diversity of plants and crops in our food systems is more important than ever with the impending effects of climate change!
- You’ll support better soil management practices that are obtained through nutrient cycling ensuring the replenishments of nutrients for fruitful harvests for generations to come
- You’ll reduce your use of single-use plastics and often have the opportunity to recycle boxes and containers the CSA uses to deliver their produce to you!
How do they work?
CSA models can take many forms and prices depending on where you are located.
Typically, a consumer becomes a member by investing a sum upfront to help the farmer with growing costs (this can range from $400-$1000 depending on the size of the share, the length of the season, and region which you live). In exchange, members will receive regular allotments of produce from the farm.
For example, this is how my personal CSA currently works…
The model of Urban Roots Farm CSA, the CSA my family is a member of while living here in the city of Philadelphia, involves two initial payment installments, paid upfront in early spring, for 25 weeks of shares of overflowing produce grown on the farm each week from June-December.
Each week during the season we get our freshly harvested share delivered to our home (some have weekly pickup locations) along with a fun email update from Farmer Jack on all going on on the farm and ideas and tips for how to prepare the bounty.
While our farm is not certified organic, our farmer uses no chemicals in the growing process, and let me tell you everything is incredibly delicious and fresh!
While this is a standard model, it is not the only model available out there. Other farms may allow financing and diversity of size of shares, etc. If the idea of a large upfront sum is prohibitive to you, you can also ask about financing options or if they accept SNAP benefits.
WHAT TO CONSIDER
While the benefits of being a CSA member are many, there are a few things to consider when it comes to making a commitment to joining a CSA.
You’re a great candidate for a CSA if you…
- Love to cook and get creative with new ingredients
- Eat at home most days of the week
- Enjoy variety and are a flexible eater
- Lean towards a nutrient-dense and/or plant-based lifestyle
- Want to support your local economy and farmer
- Want to reduce your exposure to chemicals and pesticides
- Want to reduce the carbon footprint of the food you eat
- Want to reduce your consumption of single-use plastics
- Want to learn more about how food is grown and in what season
- Can arrange for pickup or delivery intake of your share on a weekly basis
- Can afford the upfront costs of some CSA payment structures
- Have friends/family or a local food bank you can share your harvest on weeks that you don’t get to it at all
You might NOT be a great candidate for a CSA if you…
- Tend to have strong food likes/dislikes or lots of food allergies or sensitivities
- Travel a lot
- Eat most meals outside the home
- Dislike cooking and food prep
- Like to eat the same things year round
- Don’t eat a lot of produce
- Struggle to cook without concrete recipes (though google can be your best friend here! keywords: turnip recipes)
- Have a restrictive schedule that doesn’t work with delivery or pickup times
- Find it financially prohibitive to pay a large sum upfront for membership (though it might be worth it to research sliding scale or financing options that some farms might provide)
- Struggle with the guilt of food waste and don’t have anyone to share extra produce with on weeks you may cook less
- Will struggle with the unknowns of the “shared risk” aspect of the CSA model (if it’s a bad growing season for broccoli this year…there will be no broccoli…)
How do I find a local CSA to join?
There are a few ways to find a CSA local to you. It might take a little upfront research, but making sure you find a CSA that is a good fit for you and your family will ensure the success of your experience and investment as a CSA member!
Ways to find the right CSA for you…
- Talk to friends, family and community members if they are aware of any local CSA memberships. Even if they aren’t currently members of one, they might have connections to someone who uses or has used one in the past. (We found our CSA because a friend shared her weekly share with us while she was on vacation and we got hooked!)
- Visit your local farmer’s market and ask your favorite vendors if they have CSA programs
- Go online and conduct a search on the following site…
Once you find a CSA that you are interested, spend a few moments to review the details of the farm’s particular model to make sure it will work for you. Here are a few more resources from Local Harvest to help you become a savvy CSA shopper.
OTHER OPTIONS IF a tradition Csa model isn’t quite the right fit for you
If you’re interested in the idea of fresh produce delivered to your home, but aren’t ready to invest in a local CSA program yet, you may want to consider a few of the following models that are also working to get fresh produce to the consumer in creative ways while also reducing food waste.
I hope this blog post has helped inspire you to learn more about the impact that Community Supported Agriculture can make on your life, the life of your community, and our environment and food systems.