Listening to my latest podcast (I am not ashamed to admit it was Missing Richard Simmons), it’s impossible to make it through 15 minutes without an advertisement for Hello Fresh or Blue Apron. And let’s not mention the endless social media posts of friends offering free meal coupons to the same services. With the constant introductions and reminders of these services, it’s easy to forget that right in many of our own backyards we can find a similar service provided by local farmers. Not sure what I am referring to? Community Supported Agriculture or CSA. This PSA will help you understand the ins and outs of CSA programs and, more importantly, give you more than enough reasons to drop your meal service in support of our local farmers!
What is a CSA? The basic concept is that community members purchase “shares” of produce (or eggs, meat, dairy, flowers, etc.) directly from a local farmer and the farmer promises a regular (typically weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly) delivery at a convenient location. This system eliminates the middleman, so you know exactly where your food is coming from. It also provides an upfront cash flow to farmers allowing them to purchase seeds, fix or buy equipment, etc.
Why should I buy into CSA? If you are interested in eating homegrown foods, but not ready for the time and expense of growing your own fully stocked garden, a CSA is a perfect solution. For between $15 and $20 a week, you are welcoming a variety of quality, locally grown foods into your home. This investment is not only healthy for you, but it improves the health of your local economy and creates a sense of community by establishing a “we are in this together” mentality. You no longer will be guessing where your foods came from and how they were grown because you have opened a direct connection to your local food supplier.
How do I make a CSA work for me? Are you wondering what you could possibly do with 5 pounds of zucchini? Never heard of radicchio? Does the thought of trying to use a box of produce you are unfamiliar with make you nervous? Here are a few ideas on how to utilize your boxes to their fullest extent…
- Find farmers that partner with each other so you can receive a variety of foods (produce, meat, dairy, eggs, or bread) in a one-stop shop setting. This could mean selecting multiple farms that deliver to the same location or choosing a CSA program that has add-on options.
- Split your shares with a friend. If you like to eat out a lot, purchasing a CSA membership might not be for you. BUT if you split shares with a friend, you don’t have to worry about becoming backlogged with produce or throwing away unused food.
- Find a recipe site that allows you to search for recipes with specific ingredients. If you have never cooked with Swiss chard or rhubarb and are concerned the items in your box will just go to waste, using a website like Supercook will help you find delicious recipes for every item, every week.
- Check out the Illinois Specialty Crop Podcast & Card Series! The Land Connection will be posting interview podcasts with local specialty crop producers, as well as nutrition, storage, and use cards for seventeen specialty crops as they become available at your local farmers market. This is a great way to help you better understand the basic ways to prepare produce!
At this point, I hope I have convinced you why a CSA membership is just as convenient as a meal service kit. Now that you are ready to take the plunge, I have a few final questions for you to consider when choosing the best CSA program for you.
- Where is the pick up site location? If it isn’t a convenient spot for you, then you aren’t going to enjoy getting your box of delicious foods each week and you might be more likely not to renew after your first season.
- What are the price of shares? If you are on a fixed budget for food, this is an important component. Some CSA memberships include the opportunity for volunteer/work programs to reduce the cost, some can be paid for with food stamps, and some even come at a reduced season rate for low-income families.
- What is the length of the season? This is another important component when considering the cost of shares. The number of weeks you are provided food changes the cost per week for food.
- What variety of produce are you receiving? Some farmers have moved to a system of allowing shareholders to choose the produce they want in their box, while other farmers create the box for the shareholder. Knowing what will work best for you ensures your continued enjoyment.
It’s not too late to purchase your CSA membership! Even though the season has begun, many farmers in our community are still selling memberships. Google “CSA and [your town name/state] to find what’s available near you. And remember…In America’s pursuit of convenience, let us not forget that our very own community farmers are growing quality foods that are easily accessible, can be paired together for meal solutions, and are overall a great addition to our dinner tables!