As we explore the many options available to save on organic food, participating in a local CSA is a great way to not only support your local economy but also to get to know exactly where your food is grown and what is going into it. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. They are growing in popularity as more and more consumers are looking to buy local, seasonal food directly from farmers.
So how exactly does a CSA work? In a nut shell, membership in the CSA is based on shares of the harvest. A farmer offers shares of what his farm produces that growing season to the public. Typically this would be a box of whatever vegetables that were ready to harvest that week, not getting the same variety necessarily each week. So by being a member of that CSA you would have a share or membership to what the farm produces for the season. Some farmers may offer a weekly share, others a bi-weekly share this would depend on how the CSA is established. The difference between purchasing at a farmer’s market and a CSA is that your share will likely last the entire growing season.
So even if you don’t have the desire or the opportunity to farm or garden, a CSA offers you the opportunity to have fresh, locally grown produce at its peak! Or even those that do garden on a small scale may want the opportunity to expand so they can preserve the fresh local produce for the coming winter months and a CSA would be great for that!
There are many benefits to joining a CSA. As mentioned above you are supporting your local economy by purchasing locally, sustainably grown vegetables. You have the opportunity to develop a relationship with the farmer and those in the community that may also participate in the CSA as you will all be vested in the concerns and success of the farm. In many cases a CSA may have a meeting to discuss what will be grown during the coming seasons and the budgets of the CSA. Knowing the farmer, you will get to know how he farms and what is being put on and into your food! Depending on the size of the CSA you may even vote on how the crops will be produced, hopefully organically.
As member we may get to discover new types of vegetables as the basket received will be filled with all the goodies that are ripe and in season. That is another added benefit, eating what is in season! CSA offers the opportunity for you to reconnect with rhythms of nature by eating produce when it is in ripe and full of all the vital nutrients our bodies need. Some CSA’s even share recipes and encourage you to preserve the harvest to enjoy in the winter months. (There is nothing like have home preserved goods to have in the dead of winter).
With being a member of the CSA there are shared risks and rewards. Many times, the idea of shared risk is part of what creates the sense of community among members, and between the members and the farmers. As an example, if a tomato crop is wiped out by a force of nature, the farmer as well as the members are disappointed because part of their share is now lost, but as a group together they cheer on the other cooler season veggies. With that being said, there are many times that the crops produce much greater than anticipated and there is an abundance shared among the members.
CSA is not necessarily about providing the most inexpensive food. Rather the focus of CSA has been structured around community and each of us being responsible. It is in the member’s interest that farmers are supported so that they can grow the highest quality, most nutritious food while preserving the highest environmental quality and soil health. And I think you will find that in the balance, many times produce from a CSA will in the long run, be far less expensive and better on the environment than purchasing produce, even organic that has been trucked in from across the country.
For more information about CSA or to find one near you head over to LocalHarvest.org.
Next week we will touch on purchasing organic bulk to save money!