The Ultimate Guide to CSAs
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to hear from you!