What is a CSA?
CSA stands for Community-Supported Agriculture. A CSA farm is a farm that grows produce (and perhaps fruit, herbs, flowers, and other items) for a set number of members who “subscribe” to receive a share of in-season items every week in the growing season. Here in Minnesota, our CSAs typically start in early June and run through October. Usually a share can feed a family of 4 the veggies they’d eat for a week (give or take), but this depends on the farm and the size of the share they offer. It also depends on how much you eat vegetables!
CSA members typically pay up-front for their vegetables with the understanding that they are investing in the farm as members. This means that if something happens to a crop (like the unthinkable destruction via pests or disease), they agree that they’re in it with the farmer and usually, the farmer makes it up to them in other ways with other crops that are abundant.
Why Join a CSA?
1.) Eat Healthy
Assuming you’re eating the produce that comes in your CSA share, you’re giving yourself a nice dose of high-quality, nutrient dense food. Not only is it healthy to eat your veggies, but
having a wide variety as found in CSA shares is also an important contributor to health.
Though there’s been speculation about whether organically-grown food has a higher nutrition content than conventionally-grown food, we know that the presence of antibiotics and chemical pesticides in our food has a negative impact on human health. Some studies have found that organic vegetables have a higher antioxidant content than their conventionally-raised counterparts (source).
2.) Experiment with New Foods
Kohlrabi. Mizuna. Celeriac. (And bears). Oh my!
You may get some crazy-sounding veggies that you’ve never heard of, but (at least to me) that’s part of the adventure! How often do we go to the grocery store and pick out the same things week after week, make the same dishes, and stick to what’s familiar? I know I can get stuck in that rut, which is exactly why I love CSAs. You get what’s in season, and with that, you get the excitement of working with and eating foods you’ve never tried before or rarely come into contact with otherwise.
Don’t worry, most CSAs share recipes in their weekly newsletters. I also recommend the cookbook From Asparagus to Zucchini, which has recipes listed by vegetable to help with cooking farm fresh veggies!
3.) Save Money
While a CSA subscription may feel like a lot of money up front (and it is), with the average CSA costing around $400-$600 for an 18-20 week subscription, you end up only spending around $30 per week on vegetables.
Also, since your vegetables are fresher than fresh, they will often last longer than store-bought produce, leading to less waste.
There are also other countless, invaluable benefits, including the 6 other ones I’ve highlighted here :)
4.) Know Where Your Food Comes From
Once commonplace, knowing where our food comes from is now a novelty that can be hard to come by. If you aren’t able to grow your own garden or simply can’t grow enough to meet your family’s needs, joining a CSA (or shopping at farmers markets!) is the next best thing. Not only can you participate in some of the growing of this food, but you can trust and know that it’s in good hands from seed to harvest.
Of course, this requires a bit of research on our part as consumers, and not all CSAs are created equal, but once you find one that resonates with your values and expectations, you can dine in peace.
5.) Support the Local Economy
This is an important one for many. It has been found that at least twice the amount of money stays within our local communities when we buy products locally vs. not locally (source).
We can build strong local communities buy supporting local farmers, artisans, and other creators/producers that contribute to meeting our needs. If there is an option to purchase something locally rather than a “Made in China” product, please consider the local item, even if it may cost a bit more. The money invested locally always comes back around and is an investment not just in the company or person we’re purchasing from, but also in our own families.
6.) Build Community
One of my favorite perks of being a CSA member (or in my case, a CSA farmer), is the focus on community. CSAs started so that consumers could really connect with the farm and the farmers, to really know where their food is coming from and how it’s grown. Being a CSA member means you are literally a part of the farm.
While some farms invite members to engage more or less than others, there are usually opportunities for connection including a harvest festival or potluck at some point throughout the season, times when you can volunteer on the farm (often in exchange for a chunk of change off your share!), and weekly newsletters that keep you connected to the happenings on the farm.
7.) Preserve & Store Your Own Food
Aside from the sense of productivity and accomplishment preserving our own food can give
us, it is also a practical thing to do for health, financial, and preparedness reasons.
Preserving excess produce from the farm when it’s in abundance is a great way to be able to enjoy things like tomatoes year-round without buying them from places like China.
Many methods of preservation also enhance healthfulness found in foods, as fermented foods like sauerkraut and pickles are high in probiotics.
Do you know of other benefits of joining a CSA?
Please share your stories & ideas in the comments below!