If you live in a cold-weather climate like me, don’t fret! Spring is here—the temperatures are rising, the days are getting longer, and summer is fast approaching. This change in weather also signals the start of the growing season for many veggies and fruits. Again, if you are like me, this is yet another positive to focus on. Furthermore, obtaining these goodies via a CSA share could be the most cost-effective, environmentally friendly, and rewarding way to do so. But what exactly is a CSA and why should you and your family consider buying one? Let’s take a closer look.
CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and there is not really one definition that can adequately describe all its attributes, since its benefits stretch far beyond the “agriculture” or “food aspect” that its name suggests. However, essentially a CSA allows an individual to buy a weekly or biweekly share of veggies and/or fruits that a farm produces during the growing season (many CSAs near me run from June through October but could differ in your area). The customer or member pays an upfront fee to their farmer that covers the buyer for the entire growing season. In return, the farmer supplies the customer with a set number of in-season veggies and fruits, again, usually offered on a weekly or biweekly basis. Some farms will drop these food items off directly to the customer, but others will designate set pickup times where the customer has to come and retrieve the week’s produce.
So that is the accurate but somewhat mundane description of a CSA. I say “mundane” because a CSA represents so much more than a monetary exchange for food. For instance, purchasing a CSA puts a face behind the food one eats. There is now an inextricable link between the farmer, customer, and food that doesn’t exist when buying food from the supermarket. (If you’re in the U.S. Northeast, for example, that head of romaine was likely grown 3,000 miles away in California.) Additionally, how often do you see a headline in the news that reads, “E. coli outbreak in local farmer’s romaine patch?” I will venture to guess your answer is not frequently… You are also vastly reducing your ecological footprint, too, since the food you are eating was likely grown within 20 miles of your residence as opposed to hundreds or thousands of miles away.
The close proximity also means the food gets to your dinner plate significantly faster than it would via cross-country travel; this helps to ensure a significantly higher quality of nutrition and taste. Moreover, locally sourced vegetables and fruits are far less likely to be contaminated with harmful microbes.
Aside from these benefits, CSAs help foster connections within the community. Likely, you will get to know your farmer on a personal level and will probably get at least one tour of the farm. As mentioned earlier, it’s challenging to describe a CSA because it intrinsically means so much more than an exchange of commodities between producer and consumer. Additionally, paying your farmer(s) upfront offers them security and allows them to use these finances early on in the season to help maximize their farm’s growing season potential. I will note that there is some risk involved (as with any investment). If the growing season is poor due to unseasonally bad weather, for instance, then the consumer may not reap all the produce they expected.
Another positive is that a CSA essentially obligates you to eat veggies and fruits each week— lest they go to waste! Additionally, it forces you to eat only what is locally available during a particular week or month. Supermarkets, on the other hand, give the impression that fruits and veggies being available year-round is normal. However, it is not. It will also help you to get creative with your meals, since you will consistently get a diversity of foods. (Many CSA farms will provide recipes on their website for many of their food items). You may even consider canning or learning how to can so that your family can enjoy these delicacies out of season, which is the orthodox way to consume out-of-season veggies and fruits.
At this point, I think one can discern the myriad benefits of a CSA. However, you may be asking the question “why don’t I just shop at a farmer’s market?”. Don’t get me wrong, farmers’ markets are wonderful. In fact, I would recommend supporting both. Many CSAs only offer veggies and/or fruits in their weekly offerings. If you want cheese, eggs, meat, honey, etc., you can purchase these at your local farmers’ market or even possibly at the same locale as your CSA. For instance, sometimes CSA farms offer these products themselves or partner with other farmers to sell them at their farm.
The CSA clearly offers a unique chance to get hyperlocal, nutritious, and diverse food on a consistent basis, but if you’re not sold yet, here are some other compelling reasons to join. By putting forth an early investment in a CSA, you are instilling your local farmer with the confidence that there are enough customers for it to be a profitable and worthwhile venture for this season and possibly for many seasons to come. Remember, growing vast numbers of produce is arduous work. It looks delectable once grown, but the process is full of challenges for even the most experienced farmer. Furthermore, a farmer may want to transition from part-time farmer (with a full-time city job) to full-time farmer (with no city job), and the difference between them being able to do so could be the purchase of, say, 10 more CSA shares. (I’m not asking you to buy 10 shares, but your individual contribution, along with those from 9 others, could be the determining factor.) Who knows, you may even convince your friends or family to purchase one too!
I hope by now you see not only the positives of CSAs but also that their value can’t be measured by the edible return on investment alone. With a purchase of a CSA, one is fostering relationships within their community, supporting local business, protecting and stewarding the environment, learning about the types of produce apt to grow in the area, and, of course, getting to consume these succulent foods. The positives are numerous, and hopefully you and your family will consider a CSA as a viable option to augment your palate this season. Lastly, if you want to find out even more about CSAs and how to find one near you, please check out the following websites: Local Harvest, Fairshare CSA coalition, and The Healthy Maven.
Do you know of any CSAs in your area and have you ever purchased a share from one?
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