Monday, July 18, 2011

CSA - What the hell is it?

Now that I have several weeks of CSA baskets blogged and eaten, I thought it would be a good idea to go over the basics of a CSA and cover some common questions.

First - CSA stands for Community Support Agriculture. Most of the time around here when I tell people I have a part in a CSA, I get blank looks. However, if I say I am part of a farm share, people seem to know what the hell I am talking about. So CSA or farm share, whatever.

It just means that I pay our farmer at the beginning of the season for his talent, time and land and in return I get a share of the veggies each week. It is a great way to support local farmers, local resources and enjoy fresh produce which I couldn't grow on my own. CSAs are good for the environment since food doesn't travel thousands of miles to get to you and, at least for my farmers, uses natural, chemical free ways to maintain crops and control pests, and is good for your health since we all need to eat more veggies.

So what are some things to think about before joining a CSA?

~Can you eat outside the box?
I won't lie. This is probably the hardest part for me but it is also the most fun. I am being exposed to new veggies all the time that I wouldn't have picked up on my own. I love finding new ways to eat them and really love the culinary skills I am building. It also helps that The Good Daughter will eat anything. I don't think she has ever turned down any fresh veggie. So when there is something I am not too keen on, such as greens, TGD will eat them up along with The Good Husband. Conversely, when there is something TGH won't eat, I probably will.

~Do you have the time?
I have to drive to the farm each week and pick up my share. The pick up time is right after work for me, so I can just head on out there after I pick up TGD from daycare. If it were any other time, I might not be able to join. I could find someone that has a share too and lives close to me and do a kind of veggie car pool but so far I have been going there each week. If you find a CSA that you love but can't ever pick up the produce, you might be wasting time and money joining.

~Can you actually get there?
We got lost the first time we went out to the farm b/c google maps can't figure out BFE Illinois. But now that I know how to get to the farm, I know it will only take 10 minutes or so to get there. If you want to join a CSA that takes 45 minutes to get to but pick up is only for an hour, you might not want to join.

~Can you take the risk?
As with anything in nature, things happen outside the realm of our control. You could lose some crops to pests or drought or flood. I know my farmer works as had as he can to make sure we all get what we pay for but sometimes you can't control everything. You have to be able to deal with any setbacks from nature.

~Do you have to work?
Some CSAs also require some manual labor. Check yours to make sure what the requirements are and if you can meet them.

~What do you get, how much is it and for how long?
After you know you can find the farm, be there on time and work if you have to, you need to know what you get for how much for how long. This CSA runs from May to October. It costs less than $10 a week.

~What veggies will I get, how much will it be and how many people can I feed?
I get a half share which includes a minimum of seven different kinds of produce with a mix of familiar (taters, corn, green beans) and unique (fennel, kohlrabi). This feeds my family of 3 a menu heavy on veggies. I think another key to being in a CSA is being ok with the same veggies for weeks in a row. In the beginning we were eating a ton of greens. Now we are getting more of a variety. If you don't think you will like eating the same 3 veggies every week for a month, you might not like a CSA.

~Do you get only what is produced at the farm or do other farmers sell their products as well?
I told you my CSA just partnered with another local farmer to offer meats and goat cheese for sale when we pick up our shares. This is a great way to meet more local farmers and for her to rely on a steady flow of customers. The CSA I did two years ago did not offer this.

~What is their farming philosophy?
You are supporting the farm, you should know how they operate. I get weekly updates from our farmer about the crops and conditions, etc. Most of the time, they will be more than happy to tell you how they grow and harvest.

~Is there a waiting list?
I was on the waiting list for 2 years for this CSA. The year TGD was born, I gave them my name and email for the waiting list. They contacted me this spring. So far it has been worth the wait.

~Do we get updates?
Another thing I love about this CSA is we get weekly updates about what will be in our box, how the crops are looking and recipes for the veggies we will get this week. I love having a heads up since I am not all that familiar with what grows when in Illinois.

~How do I find a CSA?
Talk to the vendors at your local farmer's market. My CSA has the best booth at the farmer's market. I had chatted with them before and got signed up for the waiting list while shopping with TGD. You can also check out and

~Do they have references?
Most CSAs should give you a list of past clients so you can contact them for information.

I hope this covered the basics of a CSA, what it is, what questions you should ask and what you can expect if you join one.

Do you have a question I didn't cover? Email me at the link in the right sidebar and I will do my best to answer.

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