I get questions from people all the time about about how and when to join a CSA. Here is some good CSA info and some info about how to find one.
The weather here in the northeast has been so warm this spring, that it seems that everything has begun to grow early. One of the surefire signs that summer is here is the opening day of my CSA, or community supported agriculture.
CSAs are becoming more and more mainstream, and I have started to hear of CSAs available all over the city, in Long Island and Connecticut. Those are just some of my friends who have started to join. CSAs are available across the country these days.
But what is a CSA? A Community Supported Agriculture is a group of people who come together as a group and essentially buy shares of a local farm. For a seasonal fee paid in the early spring, shareholders will receive a weekly delivery of seasonal produce or fruit or even eggs. The produce is made up of what's available and in season. This ensures that you have the very best at the peak of it's life.
But isn't it a bummer to fork over a few hundred dollars for vegetables in late March? While the cost of joining a CSA may be pricey at the time of payment (prices vary widely), paying for the season in entirety helps the farmer pay for necessary upfront expenses like seeds and equipment and labor costs. The influx of capital in spring means that farm won't have to resort to bank loans or dept in order to bring it's produce to market. And if the CSA's member roster is full, it also ensures that everything will be sold. This is a much better scenario than the go into debt in March and hope to pay it back in July scenario that many family farms face each year. So many of us work on salary, or own a business whose doors are open every day of the year, that we don't always understand the income/ outgo that farmers face on a seasonal basis.
But, doesn't joining a CSA mean that I can't choose my own vegetables? Yes, that is what it means. You won't see carrots in a CSA share in early June here in the Northeast, because the carrot plant needs more time to grow and mature than say kale or bok choy. But what I have grown to appreciate about my CSA is that I eat seasonally. I have my fill of different dishes at different times of the season. Kale and Sausage soup or Stir Fried Bok Choy and Noodles in June, Tomato and Eggplant Casserole or Corn Pudding in August, and Roasted Acorn Squash or the most amazing Mashed Potatoes ever in October. You do have to be more creative sometimes in combinations throughout the season. But the pay off is well worth it. My family looks forward to the CSA each year because it gets us out of our food rut. The variety and surpise of the contents of the share each week keeps us interested. I still have to buy onions or carrots grown out of state most weeks from the supermarket just to flesh out what my picky kid eats. But during the summer we have developed a different list of favorite recipes, all because that first year we committed to trying new things.
How do I find a CSA? I found my CSA through word of mouth. But I live in a neighborhood where you are outside a lot in community places like playgrounds and parks. In the suburbs it can be a lot harder to hear what's going on in your neighborhood. A great resource for finding CSAs, farmer's markets and other things farm related is http://www.localharvest.org/ This website is comprehensive and easy to use. You can find thousands of farmer's markets across the country and CSAs also. So many people I speak to would love to eat more veggies, but the organic ones at the grocery stores go bad so fast. With so much time being committed to jobs and life commitments. Who has time to shop every day? We aren't going to change that problem without overhauling the whole American way of life and I don't see that happening anytime soon. Buying local means that items stay fresh longer because you buy them just after they've been picked. When you buy produce picked in California, it takes them at least a day to process it into packaging and then 5 days to truck it to New York. And who says you are buying it the day it's off loaded from the truck? Those carrots might have been sitting there for 4 days before you got them. No wonder they go bad.
I highly recommend buying more from farmer's markets and joining a CSA. http://www.localharvest.org/ makes it much easier to connect to local options. But one of the unexpected benefits of joining my local CSA was making friends in my neighborhood who shared my passion to local, organic and seasonal eating. It has been a community experience in the truest sense.