Some Sort of Strange Root, and a Whole Lotta Tomatoes: The Lowdown on Joining a CSA

By Jen Wittes

In honor of Earth Day and leading up to our Growing Green Babies festival on April 21st, the Welcome Baby Care blog is devoting this month to the exploration of all things natural and enviro-friendly.  One practice increasing in popularity within the “green” community is participation in Community Supported Agriculture (or CSA).  Read on…

 

A CSA membership usually goes as follows:  an individual, family, or group buys a share in a particular farm.  In exchange, they recieve–typically–one large box of seasonal vegetables per week.  Other perks crop up from time to time as well and may include invites to farm events and members-only U-Pick-Ems; perhaps first dibs on specialty products such as eggs, honey, and meat from neighboring farms.

Farmers benefit from a CSA program because it allows most of their marketing, not to mention a significant portion of their yearly cash flow, to take place before the long, laborious days of summer begin.  There is a comfort in a team of members, or share holders–who help shoulder both the benefit and the risk of part farm ownership.  A good CSA farmer will take this responsibility very seriously.  They don’t want to let their members down.

Clearly, signing up consumers before the harvest begins is a desirable situation for the farms, but what’s in it for the CSA member?

The main reason consumers choose a CSA is–what else–the produce.  Not just produce, mind you, but the freshest available–picked that morning, on the table by dinner.  Studies show that vitamin levels go down significantly in the days and weeks after fruits and veggies are picked.  In fact, frozen vegetables are more vitamin rich than that pepper that’s been kicking around the market for 10 days.  Eating fresh, local produce maximizes the health potential of a meal.

With CSA boxes, you get more bang for your buck, saving money on produce in the long run.

Families also enjoy having a relationship with a farm, and furthermore, a connection to where exactly food comes from.  It is both an educational opportunity and a community experience, one that parents enjoy sharing with their children.

Many CSA farms either require or invite members to help in the field, which is extremely satisfying for Earth-conscious individuals living in a fast paced world.

CSA members eat according to the seasons, putting them in touch with nature in a very specific way.  Eating seasonably follows a certain appealing bio-rhythm.  People find that their bodies respond in a favorable way to eating according to nature’s plan.

Speaking of the Earth-conscious, is this whole CSA thing actually better for the environment?  It certainly is.  Many small farms use fewer chemicals that the big business crops.  Many are organic.  Beyond that, local food consumption eliminates the pollution generated by shipping items long distance.  On that note, veggies who take long rides on highways and in the underbellies of jet planes soak up that pollution too, which once again makes local produce a healthier choice.

Now, there are some downsides to CSA involvement.  As mentioned before, the shared risk goes hand in hand with the shared benefit.  If a storm takes out the asparagus, you will not get any.  That said, when certain crops fail, others are sure to flourish.

CSAs are not for everyone.  You must love vegetables….really love vegetables.  And you should love to cook.  You’ll need to cook pretty much every day to keep up with the abundance.  A CSA member should also be adventurous.  Sometimes you will get a vegetable and literally be clueless as to what it is.  It may even look like it comes from outer space.  You might find yourself enlisting your friends and extended family members–a team of Google research experts, if you will–in an attempt to find out what the heck you’re serving for dinner that night.  On the flip side, old standards might come in droves.  If tomatoes are doing well, expect to see a lot of them.  Sound overwhelming?  Well, you’ll need to find a good recipe for pasta sauce, plus one for salsa…then learn how to can.  Not your thing?  Stick with the Sunday Farmer’s Market…which is still a good bet.

If it does sound like a CSA might be right for you, you’ll want to do some research.  It takes a special skill set to be a great CSA farmer.  It is usually best to pick one with at least ten years of experience, unless you are particularly passionate about helping a new farm grow.  That, of course, would be a wonderful way to support your community, but you must go into a partnership with a new organization with an open heart and a great deal of patience, expecting the first few years to be somewhat rocky.