Community Supported Agriculture – the minimalist way to grocery shop.
What is a CSA?
First of all – What is a CSA? Community Supported Agriculture is a partnership between the community and local farmers. Before the growing season begins CSA members purchase “shares” for the coming year’s harvest. The farmers receive the money ahead of time to put towards seeds, supplies, field prep and everything else that a farm needs before the first veggie is harvested. The term Community Supported Agriculture is key here – it’s the community that helps the farm get started, and in exchange the community shares the produce later in the season. It’s a win/win for both the farms and the community, and the model has been growing quickly.
Why CSAs are good for you:
When you are a member of a CSA you get your fruits and vegetables at the peak of their season. This means they pack the highest amount of nutrients and the least amount of time in storage. Studies have shown that fresh produce begins losing beneficial nutrients soon after being picked. Most CSAs harvest their produce the week or even the day before pickup – it’s hard to find that kind of freshness at the supermarket.
Though not all Community Supported Agriculture is Certified Organic, most farms are, and those that are not often use organic practices (meaning they use organic methods even though they may not be certified). That means the food your are picking up is not sprayed with pesticides fungicides, herbicides or any other kind of “cides” we don’t know about. The food you get from a CSA is grown with less chemicals and more love. If you’re unsure about what methods a farm uses, just ask, most farmers are happy to explain the methods and are proud that they use less chemicals.
While the weekly trip to the farm may seem like a large time commitment at first, when you compare making a list, driving to the grocery store, picking out your produce, waiting to checkout, in the end it’s a timesaver. Most CSAs have either a Box Share where members simply show up and pickup their box of vegetables or Market Style where members pick out what they want from that week’s harvest. Either way members can be in and out (though most like to enjoy the farm) in less time than it would take to shop for the same amount of produce at the store. Because you’ve already paid for it, there’s no transaction, just grab & go. Some CSAs even have drop off points in large urban centers to bring the goods right to you!
Great for the family
Where does food come from? Most kids think from a store, dropped off from a truck, maybe from a factory somewhere? Usually the train of thought ends there and the source of our food remains a mystery. Joining a CSA links families and especially children with the source of their food. Seeing where produce is grown, picking fruit off the trees, meeting the farmers who work to make fresh food available is an experience every child should have. CSAs help teach kids (and adults too) that food should not be wasted, that everything we eat needs resources and hard work to grow. Creating a relationship with fresh food only helps encourage proper nutrition and eating habits in children.
Eat the veggies – eat all the veggies!
Kohlrabi. What on earth is it? What do you do with it? If you’re in a grocery store you keep walking, but what if you get five pounds of it as part of a share? Answer: you get creative. Being in a CSA forces you to try different fruits and veggies you normally wouldn’t. Sound like a pain? It’s time to branch out! You can find a recipe for almost anything online and you might just discover your new favorite dish!
A local CSA farm in Western New York makes a point to include items you might not see in the grocery store. Bree Bacon and Rich Woodbridge of McCollum Orchards include lesser known items such as Bok-Choy in their harvest. “We started growing Bok-Choy for the taste” says Bree, “It’s very versatile, you can put it into just about anything, people who try Bok-Choy really enjoy it and come back for more.” Another item grown at McCollum Orchards is Ground Cherries, unheard of to most people but quickly became a favorite with kids in the farm’s U-Pick area – included with their CSA membership. During the height of Ground Cherry season the rows are full of kids and parents filling baskets with the husk-wrapped sweetness. Heirloom tomatoes are also a huge hit at McCollum orchards. The striking colors, deep rich taste are like nothing you’ll find at a store.
Gentle on the land
The land is not made to support just one kind of plant, especially acres and acres of it, year after year. It’s just not natural. Think about prairies, wetlands, forests, a collection of different species that live together, each contributing to the ecosystem. CSAs grow a huge variety of plants on the same piece of land. It’s common for one CSA to plant and harvest over 120 different varieties of fruits and vegetables. Constantly rotating and changing the crop plan and often planting Cover Crops, plants specifically to help rebuild the soil structure. Practices that reflect with a more natural way of working the land is a cornerstone of most CSAs, and one that should not be overlooked.
Shrink-wrapped tomatoes shipped from Mexico. There is nothing environmentally friendly about that. CSAs have the shortest supply chain in agriculture – usually a few hundred yards from the field to the barn. The resources it takes to ship our produce from big farms in air conditioned trucks, unloaded and stored in grocery stores is astronomical. The lowest impact produce you can buy is the one grown nearby.
Why it’s good for the Farmers
Let’s not forget about the farmers! Farmers benefit from Community Supported Agriculture in many ways. CSAs supply farms with needed funds to get going in the spring, yes – seeds cost money, especially when you calculate produce in the tons. So a farm gets money early in the season, they in turn use that money and focus on doing what farmers do best – growing amazing fruits and vegetables.
How do you find a CSA?
- Ask a friend – more and more people are joining CSAs and would be happy to share their experiences.
- Visit a Farmers market – vendors at farmers markets may also offer CSA options, ask around, most would be glad to point you in the right direction.
- Use a directory like the one from CSA Day
CSAs come in many different shapes and sizes. Seasons can run anywhere from 12-20 weeks or more. There are even Winter CSAs for root vegetables, hearty greens, southern citrus etc. There are flower shares, fruit shares, veggie shares, and even Herbal CSAs! No matter what route you choose, this year consider joining a Community Supported Agriculture program in your local area. You’ll be helping support local farmers, bringing in wonderful produce into your home, helping your family learn and connect with their source of food.