When you tally up the miles those bags of greens, apples and carrots travel to the grocery store, you may realize there’s a greener way to shop. By buying a share from a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program, you can sign up to receive a box of seasonal fruits, veggies and other items directly from local farmers.
Thanks to increased interest in local food, many small farmers and food producers have seen a boom over the past decade. There are more than 12,500 farms offering CSA programs across the country, and more families than ever are enjoying the fruits of their labor. Here’s how you can make the most of a membership.
Community-supported agriculture lets you get to know the farmer and learn more about how your food is grown. While you’re supporting local agriculture, you’re also sharing some risk with the farmer. Some weeks may have fewer tomatoes, while other weeks are overflowing with an abundance of summer squash. Farmers involved in these programs make immense efforts provide for their members, even through the harshest conditions. Many farms provide “pick-your-own” opportunities, too, allowing members to tread into the fields themselves to pick their own strawberries, corn and even flowers.
Many farms even require volunteer hours for shareholders, so the farmers that nurture the food and the families that eat it are connected in a symbiotic relationship. A little different than just running to the grocery store, huh?
CSAs allow you to get fresh produce straight from the farm, no middleman required. Rather than sitting on a truck and then on display in the grocery store for weeks, your produce comes to you when it’s at its peak, full of flavor and nutrients. Offerings at each farm vary and may also include non-produce items such as meat, cheese, eggs, honey or flowers. Before you subscribe, ask your farmer for a harvest schedule to learn about what kind of produce you can expect at different points in the season.
Signing up for a CSA is an investment, so you have to weigh the pros and cons to decide if it will be worth it to you. Fees typically range from $400 to $700 annually, which may or may not be due up front. Depending on your shopping and cooking habits, a membership may save you money on quality fruits and vegetables compared to grocery store prices.
Your membership maybe also a “use it or lose it” deal if you’re too busy to pick up your box. Some farms may ship the produce to you or offer a discount if you pick it up yourself. Factor in how many miles you have to drive to pick up your produce and determine if it’s convenient. If it’s still too pricey, offer to split the cost of a share with a friend to make it more affordable.
If you’re not too picky with your food, you may not mind the mixed bounty you receive every week, so let those surprises inspire your weekly meal planning. While you may still need to source the rest of your grocery list from a grocery store or a farmers market, you can improvise with what you have.
Turn veggies into smoothies, soups, salads, omelets and quiches. Some weeks, you may end up with more zucchini than you think you’ll need, so you have to be resourceful. Make zucchini pasta, or bake zucchini breads to share with friends. Out of ideas? Greatist shares several tips for how to use all of your produce, from canning to freezing and even making your own pasta sauce.
Joining a community supported agriculture program is a commitment, and you have to consider if it will be a good match for your lifestyle and budget. If you want to be more connected to your food and your community, a CSA may be exactly what you’re looking for.