I was first introduced to the concept of a CSA, or community supported agriculture, 10 years ago when my husband, John, became an intern on a local vegetable farm. Neither of us had ever heard of the concept of a CSA before and had little understanding of life on a farm. At the time, I had just started eating vegetables. Yes, up until I was 20 years old I would not consider going near a vegetable other than potatoes or corn. Salad was still very new to me, as was the concept of roasting fresh vegetables.
After a difficult first few weeks, my husband discovered he loved life on a farm. Fast forward 10 years and we are now the proud owners of Sunset Harvest Farm in Southeast Michigan. We are just of half way through the second year of our CSA and have learned so much in this process. We thought it would be helpful to talk about the benefits of joining a CSA as well as who should NOT consider joining a CSA.
How a CSA Works
First, it helps to have an understanding of how a CSA works. A community supported agriculture consists of members who pay a farm for a share of produce, generally before the growing season begins. What is harvested each week throughout the season is divided amongst members for a weekly share. Most farms in Michigan provide shares from the end of May through the end of October. Depending on the climate, some states can offer CSA shares throughout the whole year. Most CSAs, like ours, consist of the vegetables and fruits grown on our farm but some farms also include items like animal products, canned goods, or other items.
Why You Might Want to Join a CSA…
As we said above, over the years of working on CSAs as well as being members, we often help people decide whether a CSA is right for them. Below we listed the benefits of joining a CSA and we also discuss who a CSA is not for! It does not benefit anyone if we encourage someone to try a CSA who just would not be a good fit.
To Be Adventurous
Joining a CSA is a great way to introduce not only new foods, but preparation methods and recipes, into your life. We won’t lie, the first year we were members of a CSA this was a little intimidating. John was bringing home vegetables on a weekly basis I had never seen before and had no idea what to do with.
However, there are so many ways to make trying new things fun! A CSA is the perfect way to be adventurous with your foot as most of the produce makes an appearance in shares multiple weeks in a row. This allows plenty of opportunities to continue to try new ways of enjoying fresh food.
On a personal note, beets were our vegetable nemesis of our CSA membership for years. We continued to try recipes and struggled to find ways to best highlight the flavors of beets. Everything from simple roasting to trying them in chocolate cake just was not doing it for us… until we came across this beet hummus recipe (seriously, you know you did something right if your toddler loves beet hummus as much as you do). Now beets have become a staple in our kitchen. Moral of the story, stay open-minded and never stop trying new things!
And on this note, one of the most common reasons someone does not come back to a CSA after trying it is a lack of knowing what to do with all of their produce. To bring fun to trying new foods, we keep lists of recipe suggestions categorized by vegetable over on our blog and share our favorite recipes on our Facebook page. Go check it out for inspiration!
Fun for a Family
Want to revamp your family’s diet or lifestyle? A CSA is a great way to make the process fun and get the whole family involved. From the excitement of seeing what is in each share for that week to learning about the growing process. Each week brings a wide variety of vegetables with enough quantity to go around. Most CSAs also allow visitors to the farm, so you can see what the growing process actually looks like. Look for a local CSA that also hosts farm events to maximize the family-friendly benefits.
To Preserve Fruit or Vegetables
Whether or not you are already familiar with different methods of preserving food, including canning, freezing, fermentation, and dehydrating, a CSA share is a great way to prepare ahead and preserve foods for the winter months. These skills are easy to learn and you can continue to enjoy your produce much longer than the growing season. And again experimenting with different food preservation methods is fun!
Support Small Local Businesses
CSAs are generally run through smaller local farms, so joining a CSA is a great way to get involved in your community and support a small local business. Everyone benefits when the local economy is thriving.
Learn About the Environment and Sustainability
We encourage CSA members to be as much of the farm experience as possible. We talk openly about how the food is grown, how and why we care for the soil, and the role a farm can play in bettering the environment. The farm has given us a platform to educate the public on the role of local seasonal agriculture in sustainability.
A CSA is one of the most cost effective ways to increase your high quality vegetable intake. When you break down the cost of the share v. pounds of produce per week, the weekly expense is about half of what you would pay for the same quantity from a store. A membership gives the most bang for your buck not only in quantity of produce but also flavor and nutrient density. You might be surprised by all the flavor profiles of foods you were missing out on until you try something locally grown!
Find Your Tribe
Our CSA members have truly become our community. When our members meet each other at pick-up locations they know they are among like-minded individuals. Nothing makes us happier than when our members share pictures of how they are enjoying their shares with us! Members are eager to share recipes and ideas with one another as well.
Why You Might NOT Want to Join a CSA…
Having been familiar with CSAs for several years now, we will be the first to tell you that it is not for everyone. And this is perfectly ok! We are as upfront with this as possible because we don’t want someone to try the CSA if it is not going to be the right fit. When someone contacts us asking for more information about the farm and CSA just a few simple questions can help us quickly guide someone in the right direction.
If you are looking for only specific vegetables or like to customize what vegetables you are getting every week, the CSA may not be the best option for you. You can still maximize many of the above benefits without a CSA share. Get to know the farmers in your community and you can find some great options for enjoying local produce!
Any other questions? Contact us at email@example.com. We would love to hear from you!
I remember sitting at home around this time a year ago, planning the upcoming Farm season. In the past, I've worked three seasons on two different farms. I learned so much about plants, pests, machinery, irrigation, soil composition, on and on and on. I quickly found how much I was lacking in decision making and leadership. I am great at completing tasks given to me by someone else. However, deciding on my own what to do, when to do it, and being solely responsible for the consequences is entirely different!
For those of you who have not been to the Farm, getting a sense of the layout will help me explain some experiences last year. Our property is 5 acres total, almost all open field, from the street to the tree line. It is only 200 and some odd feet wide with a straight run. Our back yard is fenced in with the farm located in the field beyond the fence. Inside the fence is a chicken coop with our senior chickens, Pickle and Pepper (RIP Penny), our cold frame for seedlings in the spring, and a small garden. Around this garden within the fence is yet another fence to prevent Lucy and Ducky (our dogs) from eating just about everything. I used this garden for our family, to help supplement the CSA, and also to experiment with plants and techniques that could be used in the field the next year.
One of the biggest things I learned about was the culinary preferences of my dear, dear friend, Marmota Monax. Who's that you ask? The groundhog.... Perhaps next year I'll start screaming "Marmota Monax!" instead of the less family friendly nicknames I used last year since Liam repeats basically everything now. I can tell you his favorite foods first hand. They include, but are not limited to, peas, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, chard, and probably many other crops I'm drawing a blank on right now. Our experience with the groundhogs taught us a lot for next year! The garden in the fence was pest proof, minus a few birds, bugs, Liam's, etc. I greatly expanded the size of this protected garden for next season and will grow lots of those tasty crops in safety for the CSA and the market.
Other new changes for next year include: improving soil quality and the irritation system, planting more fruits and berries for the future, increasing the variety in shares, and providing more customized shares.
For current and new members: send a quick email/text with anything you specifically want grown next year, what you want more of, less of or none at all! I'll jot it down and make it happen whenever possible. Any other suggestions or comments would also be appreciated.
Fennel is another one of our favorites! And yet again, something I was completely unfamiliar with until John started farming. Fennel has a delicate sweet flavor that adds interest to many different dishes. Roasted fennel is our favorite way to enjoy this vegetable, but it can be used many different ways. It goes nicely raw in salads or cooked into a sauce as well.
Fennel not only has a history of being used in the kitchen, but for various medicinal purposes as well. Concentrated oils from fennel have been used as a digestive aide in various cultures throughout the world. Like many other vegetables, fennel is high in fiber, potassium, and vitamin C. It is great for heart health, the immune system, and brain function.
Beets were yet another vegetable that took us some time to learn to love. We tried beets so many different ways before finally finding things we not only liked, but actually loved. We thought beets were just something we would never enjoy, but the health benefits were just to great to pass up.
Beets are high in fiber, B vitamins, vitamin A, and antioxidants. As a general rule, the more vibrant the color of your fruits and vegetables, the higher the antioxidant content. Beets are also one of the few vegetables with iron, making them a good choice for those who are anemic. Beets are good for heart health, eye health, and energy levels. Recent research has even shown increased oxygen uptake in athletes who drink beet juice, which may improve performance.
After much trial and error, we compiled a list of our favorite ways to enjoy beets. Even if you have never liked beets, a few of these recipes might just change your mind!
Zucchini is one of our most requested vegetables, and for good reason! Zucchini is very versatile, cooking well in both sweet and savory dishes. It grows quickly and has the most flavor when picked smaller. Overgrown zucchini is best used for baking. We harvest zucchini daily as it is a very productive plant.
Zucchini is high in vitamin C, potassium, folate, and vitamin A making it great for eye and heart health. It is also high in fiber, making it very filling and great for weight loss. It also helps reduce overall inflammation caused by chronic disease. The skin of the zucchini contains most of the nutrients.
We often have to get a little creative to use the zucchini quickly because of the rate it grows. It can be grilled, made into noodles, or shredded for baked goods. For long term storage, shredded zucchini freezes well. Below are a few of our favorite recipes!
Green beans (also known as string beans) are full of vitamins and minerals. They are high in fiber, vitamin A, and B-vitamins, all of which provide excellent health benefits. They cook well in a variety of dishes, including stir-fry and curry dishes. They also make a great side dish and can be prepared by steaming, roasting, or frying. Here are a few recipes we found for some green bean inspiration!
The last few weeks have brought plenty of fresh basil. Basil, an annual herb, has a strong flavor that pairs well with both savory and sweet foods. Like green vegetables, it is high in vitamin A, C, magnesium, and calcium. Basil is high in antioxidants, making it anti-inflammatory.
Basil is easy to grow and maintain. It will continue to produce throughout the season if cared for properly and can also be maintained in the home throughout the winter. There are endless uses for fresh basil! It makes a fun addition to cocktails, can be used for a variety of pestos, and is even great in desserts. If you wish to preserve your basil, it can be dried, made into herb butter, or frozen as pesto. We had some fun gathering recipes this week!
So far June brought many great changes and new vegetables! Our well was finally completed and has electricity, which allowed John to set up a drip irrigation system. In the near future John will not have to spend 16 hours a day rotating a sprinkler around the farm. The radishes, turnip, kale, and basil came in full force this month. Our beets, carrots, and a variety of squash are growing beautifully and will be ready in the near future!
Kale has become one of our absolute favorite vegetables over the years! And rightly so with a combination of lots of flavor and high nutrient content. First we will talk a little bit about kale and how it is grown. Then onto the recipes.
Kale is another vegetable from the brassica family, along with radishes and arugula. Spring and fall are full of brassicas as they prefer cooler weather. Kale is packed full of minerals and vitamins making it increasingly in demand over the last several years. It is high in vitamins A, C, and K as well as calcium and iron. These nutrients make kale great for heart health, diabetes prevention, and lowering cholesterol levels.
Kale is one of the most versatile leafy greens to cook with and enjoy! Like other leafy greens, it blends well into smoothies with citrus to cut the bitterness. It also steps up the nutrient factor of salads and cooks well with eggs. And of course, kale chips are our favorite way to eat kale. Kale chips are easy to make and also make a great pizza topping!
Kale Salad Inspiration
Kale Chip Ideas
I must admit, turnips were one of the most difficult vegetables for us to learn to cook with. However, we quickly learned to love them when we realized how many ways they can be used! They cook and taste just like other root vegetables. Turnips can be easily blended into mashed potatoes and cooked into soups or stews. Our favorite way to eat them is roasted.
Turnips are part of the brassica family, along with broccoli and kale. They are a purplish root vegetable with a sweet, nutty flavor when harvested smaller. Turnips can be grown and harvested both in the spring and fall. The flavor is similar to cabbage, but with the consistency of a starchy vegetable like potatoes. Larger turnips tend to taste a little bitter. Like other root vegetables, you can use the greens as well.
We could not be more excited our arugula and radishes were ready for harvest this week. Both are part of the brassica family, vegetables that grow in cooler seasons.
Arugula is a spicy green, related to mustard greens, and adds a little interest to salads. Like other leafy greens, arugula is high in vitamin A, folic acid, vitamin C, iron, and phytochemicals making it great for eye health, immune system function, and improved metabolism.
Radishes belong to the same family as arugula but are a root crop. This colorful root vegetable comes in shades of white, red, and purple. They are high in fiber, vitamin C, folic acid, and the flavonoid anthocyanin. Anthocyanin is great for heart health and is also anti-inflammatory. Raw radishes make a great addition to salads. Other ways to prepare radishes include roasting (our favorite way to have them) or pickling. Radish greens have a peppery taste and can be used just like any other leafy green!
We gathered some of our favorite recipes as inspiration for these vegetables.
Instead of serving protein with rice or pasta, opt to serve your meals over a bed of greens for a healthier option. This is one of our favorite recipes served over a bed of arugula.
The produce has finally started to arrive and is quickly picking up pace! The farm shows new signs of growth every day. Our first CSA shares went out last week and we can hardly wait to share what will be coming throughout the rest of the season.
The Dearborn Farmer's Market started on Friday, May 19th. There may not have been any vegetables yet to sell, but that certainly did not stop us from setting up our stand to meet customers and other vendors. The market is open from 9am-2pm throughout the summer and is full of nearly 40 other great vendors. If you are in the Dearborn area, stop by to say hi!
Below are a few pictures of the busy last few weeks.