It’s hard to admit as a self-proclaimed foodie that I hadn’t really heard of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) until a few years ago. I’m even more embarrassed to say that I couldn’t really tell you much about how a CSA works until the past couple of months.
One of the primary reasons I chose Escoffier for my culinary education is the school’s emphasis on farm to table education and local and sustainable growing practices. So, naturally, within the first week our Chef Instructor explained the concept of a CSA to us. I went home, read more about it online, found one in the area that I liked, and signed up.
What is Community Supported Agriculture?
CSA is made up of a particular farm or farms and community members who choose to essentially become “shareholders” in the growing season’s production. Most CSAs include vegetable or fruit shares, but they can also include eggs, milks, cheeses… even portions of animals.
How does a CSA work?
As a shareholder, you purchase a share of the growing season’s crop of veggies, fruits, etc. Usually shares of different sizes- single person up to family size- can be purchased and are delivered to your home or to community drop off locations on a weekly basis through the entire growing season. Every week your box is filled with various assortments of picked produce- perfectly fresh and changing as different items reach harvest stage. Growing seasons and product variety will obviously vary regionally, but you have a chance to taste what grows well in your community when it’s perfectly in season.
Why should I try CSA?
CSA helps create a sense of community as you learn where, how and when local products are grown and harvested. It supports local farms by providing cash flow up front for the expenses of a growing season, it decreases marketing farmers must provide during the peak of their busiest season, and it reduces cost and resources of shipping food across the country. You will doubtlessly also be introduced to different products and may well find some new favorites.
Are there disadvantages?
As a shareholder, you do assume risk of smaller yield if there is a poor growing season for reasons such as pests, weather, etc. On the other hand, you also reap the benefit of great harvest years. It seems more expensive to pay for several months of produce up front. Many CSAs have the option of reduced costs if you’re willing to provide a few hours of help on the farm- not a bad deal. And, yes, you may end up with a few yellow squashes that you just don’t like. Most community sites have a swap bin just for that reason. Well, not for yellow squash exclusively. But you get it.
How do I learn more?
The US Dept of Agriculture gives more information on CSAs and links to several sites such as Local Harvest and Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association which provide search tools for finding a CSA in your area.
And I just about can’t wait for June when my Grant Family Farms small veggie, small fruit, and dozen eggs start to arrive every week just a few blocks from my house. Let the harvest begin :).