CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and is a wonderful way for eaters who believe in real, local food “with a farmer’s face on it.” Knowing your farmer makes eating a whole new experience!
BUT: CSA is not the only way to support your farmer. What’s the difference between joining a CSA and shopping at a farmer’s market? Which choice is right for me? Why would someone join a CSA instead?
These are great questions to ask. Everyone considering joining a CSA should ask them!
The reality is that CSA is not a good fit for everyone, and you shouldn’t feel bad if it’s not a good match for you.
The CSA members who come back year after year are a “certain kind” of customer. Not a “better” customer, but just different in a way that matches the way CSA works. It’s best to go into a CSA with your eyes wide open & see if your expectations match the experience that a CSA will give you. To help you decide if CSA is right for you, and before you sign up for this seasonal commitment to a specific farmer, you should ask yourself a few questions!
Read on below to find your answers to the questions and learn some more about CSA!
Q1: IS THE RELATIONSHIP TO THE ACTUAL FARMER IMPORTANT TO YOU? (DO YOU WANT TO SUPPORT A LOCAL FARMER?)
CSA members want to be able to shake the hand that feeds them: to connect the farmer’s face with the food they prepare for their families. There’s no faceless food in CSA!
There’s something rewarding about knowing you are doing your part to support a local farmer. CSA is a great addition to your weekly routine that allows you to access great-tasting food AND to know the farmers whose livelihood relies on it.
Joining a CSA means that you are committed to staying with a specific farmer through an entire season, come thick and thin. Inherent in this arrangement is the understanding that there is risk in farming. You never know what kind of crazy weather or natural phenomena we’ll get. We could get scorching sun or pouring rain or bug plagues, and a certain crop may not appear in your share that season. On the flip side, there may be a bumper crop of tomatoes or cucumbers, and you’ll be swimming in the summer bounty. CSA members live with and embrace this reality every day.
Their motivation for supporting the farm is just as much about having the back of the farmer as it is about getting the full financial value of the share.
Make sure you read that last sentence again. It’s kinda huge.
And this relationship goes both ways. When you join a CSA, your farmer will work to cultivate a connection with you. We try to add value to your life, by teaching you about the story of growing the food and how to prepare it.
This doesn’t mean you have to take advantage of these connecting points. But when you do, your CSA experience becomes richer for both you and the farmer.
This relationship experience is part of what you are paying for in a CSA arrangement.
Q2: DO YOU VALUE HAVING QUALITY VEGETABLE INGREDIENTS THAT REALLY TASTE GOOD?
Our vegetables become your medium to create in the kitchen. Make something beautiful.
Cardboard tomatoes in the winter. (Blah.) Lettuce that turns into a bag of slim in a couple of days! (Yuck!)
If you’re a CSA prospect, you know this frustration well. Taste matters for foodies. Because you know that putting together a terrific meal in your kitchen isn’t just about your skill. It starts with the ingredients. The second most important quality of our CSA “masters” (people who “stick” with CSA) is that they love food. Real food.
Food that tastes like it should, because it’s grown in quality soil.
In fact, CSAs often create food snobs, because customers finally experience how a carrot should really taste, and they cannot go back to the watered-down version called “baby carrots” at the grocery store. If you really love cooking and you really value taste, then you will LOVE being in a CSA. Because CSAs are all about providing high-quality, artisanal vegetables that make your home dining experience feel like an event. You’re paying for that taste experience when you join a CSA.
If you’re just looking for a basic celery and carrot at the lowest price so you can make an iceberg salad — this is not your gig.
Q3: ARE YOU WILLING TO TRY NEW FOODS? (REALLY?)
CSAs will push you to try new foods and explore variety and seasonality in the kitchen. You will discover some veggies that you love. You’ll also discover some veggies you might have to learn to love. Part of the CSA experience means getting exposed to a some of veggies you may have never seen before. We put them in your box but we will also teach you how to eat them.
We know that left to your own devices you’d never put kohlrabi in your CSA box. (Or would you? If so, you would definitely click with CSA!) It’s all a part of the bigger goal in CSA of cultivating food diversity and teaching our communities (and our kids) how to eat seasonally again.
How do you feel about trying new veggies?
Here is an actual quote taken from my end-of-year surveys by a CSA member:
We are SO looking forward to CSA this year!!! You have us spoiled now. Nothing else compares.
I couldn’t have said it better myself!
Q4: DO YOU NEED CONTROL IN YOUR MENU PLANNING?
Hakurei turnips. Would you be willing to play around with this ingredient?
CSA members have to learn to be flexible with their weekly menu. We give you a few days notice about what will be in your box, but being willing to swap out ingredients and make things work in the kitchen makes the experience much smoother.
Some people love this kind of spontaneity—others get stressed by it. Think hard on this: Are you willing to give up some control over what veggies you get each week? Or do you need to live by your plan?
If you really want to stick to your plan, you might be better off buying exactly what you want from the farmers market or a grocery store. The most common reason members leave the CSA is that they didn’t get enough of the things they wanted, and too much of what they didn’t want.
CSA works best for customers who see their kitchen as a creative space, and our veggies as the paint for their canvas.
How flexible do you feel when it comes to meal planning?
Q5: ARE YOU WILLING TO WORK AT EATING THE CSA WAY?
CSA takes time to see results. We have customers that have been with us for over six years, and they all say it took a season or two before they learned how to consistently use all of the box’s full contents. That means you will waste or have to give away some food on the front end, as you go through your learning curve.
Come into this experience with an adventurous spirit and be forgiving of yourself if you fail to eat the whole box at first. It’s really hard to do, especially if you’re a CSA rookie!
There will be many weeks when you have the best intentions to be a super-chef and maximize your CSA experience, and then real life sets in and you’ll find yourself eating raw broccoli with ranch dip. It can sometimes feel like you’re “failing” at your original goal to change the way you eat, but remember: eating more vegetables, even if it’s just with ranch, is already a win. Some veggies may rot in your fridge in a particularly hectic week, and that’s okay. Believe it or not, this still happens to your farmers too. It takes time to develop new habits, and to learn how to eat nimbly when you’re starting with raw veggies. If you are committed to learning how, you can do it!
Realize that if changing the way you eat is your goal, it takes some time to learn the skill sets. Set realistic goals for your first season, and work your way up to it. We’ll be there to help with tips & tricks and recipes every week of the season.
Are you ready to do the work?
Q6: ARE YOU LOOKING FOR A “DEAL”? ARE YOU COMPARING CSA PRICES TO THE GROCERY STORE?
People who fully embrace the CSA model don’t look for their membership to be a “deal” or a bargain. And they don’t compare the CSA experience to the grocery store price table. (However, they tell us that their kids are now eating vegetables!
Read that again. This is a really key point.
It is absolutely understandable to ask, “how much does it cost?” and then weigh the pros and cons. Supporting a CSA financially however is not just about doing a cost analysis of each vegetable you receive in your box and comparing it to what you’d pay at Walmart or Payless.
Our CSA shares are priced at (about) the value that we would charge at the farmers market, but you get so much more than our farmers market customers. In return for investing in our farm, we give you 10-15% more veggie value than you pay for, plus each CSA member will receive recipes, the freshest produce from our fields, and access to produce that doesn’t make it to the market. CSA customers appreciate this added value of our product, and are willing to pay for it.
So, if you’re saying to yourself, “well, that’s more than you’d pay at ______” you may want to hit the pause button on this.
Are you looking for the best deal or for a new experience?
7. ARE YOU GOING TO BE OUT OF TOWN?
This is the practical question that weeds out a lot of people.
We ask our members to make a weekly or biweekly commitment. If you have to miss your box pickup due to a vacation, you can donate it to a food bank OR you can gift it to a friend who comes in your place.
In our CSA, we ask you to think about your commitment before you sign up. Will you be gone a lot this summer? Is your chosen pickup site time convenient? Or is your life too busy to fit this in right now?
CSA is designed for people who know they can make that weekly or biweekly commitment.