CSA 101: Round Out Your Harvest With Community Supported Agriculture

Using a CSA is a great way to try produce you might never think to buy at the store.
Bountiful Produce from Backyard Garden

Bountiful Produce from Backyard Garden

A bountiful harvest of a fruitful garden includes a variety of vegetables, herbs and fruits.

©2012, Dorling Kindersley Limited

2012, Dorling Kindersley Limited

When I’m deciding what veggies to plant in my small yard, I generally gravitate toward the ones my family already eats a lot of, like broccoli, carrots, tomatoes and peppers. That’s a smart way to use my time, money, space and energy, but it also means that I have to look outside my own backyard to round out our summer menus.

My favorite way to get more fresh, seasonal and locally-grown produce in my family’s diet? Community-supported agriculture, or CSA.

How It Works

A CSA farm offers a certain number of “shares” to the community. You buy in at a weekly, monthly or seasonal rate, and then share the harvest. Some CSAs also offer other farm goods like eggs, bread, honey, cheese, meats, baked goods or fresh flowers.

Yes, you may end up with fruits and veggies you never would have bought at the store. But I see it as a challenge: how can I use this kohlrabi? What dishes might my family never have experienced if not for these CSA radishes?

Some CSAs will allow you to pick and choose what you like best, or will encourage you to leave behind what you won’t eat for another family to enjoy.

Costs Involved

Prices vary by area, but at Oak Hill Farms, our CSA in Southwest Michigan, we pay a weekly $20 subscription for a large, diverse selection of produce, much of it organic or IPM (which stands for integrated pest management a proactive farming method that limits pesticide use). My freezer stays stocked all winter long and I still have a supply of peach jam and canned goods of all kinds, courtesy of my CSA harvest.

In general I found that we get a much better bargain on produce than I would have shopping at the grocery store or even the farmer’s market.

Sharing the Risk

It’s important to remember that while you share the bounty with your CSA farm, you also share risks. How much produce you get or how high the quality may depend on a variety of factors that are outside the farmer’s control.

“Shared risk” is actually one of my favorite parts of the CSA model. I like knowing that I’m supporting local farms with an early-season influx of cash and a commitment to stick with them, even if pests or weather lead to a lesser harvest. When things are good for the farmers, they’re great for us.  When the farmers struggle, we feel it too. It’s a great way to stay more connected to our food and local agricultural community.

And as a gardener, knowing we’re all in it together makes me feel better when I’m struggling with those darn tomato-squashing squirrels.

Check LocalHarvest.org for more information about finding a CSA in your area.

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