Somehow, every year I end up forgetting to sign up for a CSA share until the last minute. I think the cold and snow of winter creates some sort of mental block; my brain seems incapable of contemplating weekly shares of fresh vegetables until spring. Don't make this mistake! CSA registration periods are starting to open up this month, so consider this your annual reminder to scope out the options and sign up for a share today!
What's a CSA?
Community supported agriculture (CSA) is a partnership between communities and farmers that enables food eaters to help support food producers. In most CSAs, members purchase a CSA share from the farmer before the growing season, and in return receive regular installments of food for the duration of the season. Many CSAs are limited to vegetables, but others offer eggs, meat, milk, cheese, fruit and even prepared foods. There are also a growing number of community supported fisheries (CSFs) for seafood.
I like listicles! Tell me the top five reasons to join a CSA
- You get really delicious fresh, local, sustainable food. Every week. For a whole season! It's hard to beat the taste (or nutritional quality) of vegetables harvested just hours before you pick up your share.
- It's exciting! Because you don't always know exactly what you're going to get over the course of the season, and sometimes you end up with fruits or vegetables you've never tried. (Check out our Real Food Right Now series to find information and recipes for just about any fruit or vegetable you're likely to encounter.)
- You end up eating more vegetables. We've all heard the benefits of eating more vegetables, but most of us could still stand to eat more of them. When you get a big bag of delicious produce every week, it makes eating well just a little easier.
- You end up meeting and interacting with other sustainable food fans in your area. The level of engagement varies, but some CSAs will host events, outings and even farm stays for members.
- It helps support local, sustainable agriculture! We saved the best for last. CSAs give a big boost to small sustainable farms by providing an influx of cash to help handle early season expenses like seed, equipment and labor. They also create a stable demand for the farmer's product, and allow the community to share the risks (and benefits) of agriculture with the farmer.
Anything else I should keep in mind?
- Weekly CSA shares often include a whole lot of produce. If you don't think you'll be able to use it all, consider buying a half share, or splitting a share with a friend. Or go with the whole share and preserve whatever you can't use right away by freezing or canning.
- Costs, membership requirements and program procedures vary by CSA, so do your homework before signing up. You should also make sure you're comfortable with the farm's production practices; while you're unlikely to come across a CSA program from a large-scale industrial operation, agricultural practices do vary from farm to farm, and some will be more sustainable than others.
- As I've learned the hard way, the longer you wait to join a CSA, the harder it becomes; most CSAs have limited member slots, which can fill up quickly. So find a CSA and sign up for a share today!
This post was originally published in February 2016.