Before we get into details, let’s get this out of the way. If you have a CSA program you’ve been considering joining, stop what you’re doing and find out what you have to do to get on their waiting list now. Sometimes these run a few seasons deep, and you can always change your mind.
Okay, now that that’s all taken care of…
What is a CSA?
CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, or Community Sponsored Agriculture, or Community Sustained Agriculture. In short, a farm charges a flat fee to subscribers who get a share of what’s produced that season.
There’s an element of risk involved. For example, if the farm gets torn up by a tornado or fried by a heat wave, farm shareholders share in the loss as well. But I wouldn’t shy away from a community supported agriculture program because of that. Knowledgeable, diligent farmers who plant a diverse variety of crops will fill your box week after week, despite aberrant weather.
Where to find a CSA
Your local farmer’s market is probably the best place to find out who is taking CSA subscriptions. What’s nice about the farmer’s market is that you can inspect what they’re producing and ask lots of questions before you sign on.
We live in a small town, so asking around is the most effective way to do pretty much everything. (We don’t need services like Angie’s List. We ask to find the best of the best, and if someone does a bad job, their business is toast.)
If friends and the market don’t turn up a good result, you can try doing a search for “CSA [yourtown].” Some localities maintain CSA and farm stand listings.
What to look for in a CSA
Of course you’ll need to consider cost and pickup location. Once you get past all that, you can start to nitpick.
The farm should be small enough that it serves a your community, maybe slightly outward, and that’s about it. When things get too large, the farmers lose that hands-on omniscience that keeps things in tip-top shape.
Crops should be organically grown. It’s easy to tell when the farm is either certified organic by the USDA or Certified Naturally Grown. Our CSA hasn’t gone official – it’s costly and resource-consuming – but I have no doubt they hold themselves to the most stringent possible standards. Their update letters talk about the ease that organic growing brings, for example with healthy soil they don’t have to respond to erosion issues that the other farmers have. On the flipside, they also talk about the plight of the organic grower, such as when blight is sweeping through the tomatoes, they’re out picking infected leaves instead of blasting them with fungicides.
Plus, it’s not uncommon to find that our produce is crawling with critters. I see it as a good sign! Do we really want to eat something that’s not good enough for a bug?
Now that you’ve learned all about community supported agriculture programs, I’m going to let you peek inside my Week 1 box!
And here’s what we did with it…
- Cooked the rhubarb down like applesauce with sugar, raisins, some lemon and cinnamon and we spooned that over chicken
- Mesclun greens made a great salad with some store-bought tomatoes, or just by itself
- We don’t usually have bread in the house because of Mister’s gluten issues, so the butterhead lettuce made wraps for Moroccan spiced lamb one night and sloppy Joes another
- There was only a little arugula, so…um…I kind of ate it by the handful because I love it. Strange, I know. But their arugula is something special!
- The eggs and spinach became omelettes
We expect the boxes to be greens-heavy for a little while longer. The boxes get heavier and heaver as the season progresses, and by late fall they’re heavy enough that I choose my parking space carefully.
Stay tuned for a week by week CSA unboxing. I’ll be showing you what’s inside each one and I’ll tell you what I end up doing with all the veggies.