After a long winter, it may be hard to believe, but spring is truly right around the corner! One reason to get excited is all the fresh, vibrant produce that will hit farmer’s markets and fill our bellies once the weather warms up. An excellent way to take advantage of this bounty—and support local farmers in the process—is joining a CSA program.
CSA, or community supported agriculture, programs give people access to freshly harvested and picked fruits and veggies from the farm down the street. You pay up front for a season’s worth of weekly or biweekly hauls that are bursting with fresh and locally grown eats. There are many reasons to love CSA, but there are some things to consider before jumping in. Here are some things to research before selecting the best program for you:
How much will your family eat?
Many CSA programs offer a selection of sizes or pick-up days to ensure you won’t be wasting a ton of food. Choosing a half share versus a full share will typically fit a family of two (or one serious vegetable eater), but you can also split the haul of a full share with a friend. There also might be an option to pick up your share biweekly, instead of weekly, which could save on waste.
Prices for CSA shares usually cost a few hundred dollars and are paid at the beginning of the season, reserving your spot for when the crops are ready for harvest. If your family already eats a bunch of whole plant foods throughout the year, the cost can be seriously worth it—and the food is all locally grown and usually organic, which saves on environmental costs.
Do you enjoy cooking seasonally?
One of the best things about getting a CSA share is exposure to new foods. Ever cooked with heirloom tomatoes or fresh sage? If not, joining CSA will change all that. The pros to eating seasonally are getting acquainted with Earth’s cycles and the food it produces during certain times of the year, challenging yourself to try new things, and less stress with meal planning.
If you are someone who feels intimidated by being surprised each week with what food will end up in their kitchen, CSA shares can seem a little daunting. Luckily, many programs send newsletters to alert shareholders about which veggies will be included in the upcoming week’s share. They might also let you swap an unwanted item for something else. The challenge of cooking with new foods can be thrilling, however, and everyone should try it out at least once!
Do you need all the extra frills?
While CSA shares can be cost-effective in the long run, there are plenty of ways to add to your final bill. Many farms also offer shares for animal products (eggs, meat, cheese, honey, etc) as well as other produce (spring greens, fruits, etc). It can be tempting to add those to your cart, but be sure to evaluate whether you and your family will truly be able to eat all that you buy and if it is all budget-friendly at the end of the day.
Are you willing to learn how to can, freeze, dehydrate, roast, puree, and compost?
Bringing home a huge haul of tomatoes every week in July and August can be overwhelming! If you are all about learning how to can, dry and roast them so you can have tomatoes all year round, however, you are in good shape! The challenge of using up all of your share can be exhilarating—even if some of it ends up in your new composting system.
Huge handfuls of basil can make a mean pesto that will freeze well, extra kale can dehydrate in the oven for healthy kale chips and surplus bell peppers can be roasted and pureed into a tasty pasta sauce. Do some research about seasonal vegetables in your area and how to best preserve them. You’ll be a pro at these techniques in no time.
Are you willing to get your hands dirty?
Many CSA programs will include a work shift in a share purchase, which brings the price down. You can opt out and pay a bit more, but it’s fun to get your hands dirty and help out on the farm. Typically, work shifts are just for a few hours and occur once during the season—but I’m sure any farm would love to have extra hands on deck as volunteers throughout the season, as well.