Nutrition Articles

A Getting-Started Guide to CSAs

Eating Locally Just Got Easier

515SHARES
If you're eager to join the movement toward eating healthy, locally and sustainably, but don't have the backyard square footage to establish your own vegetable garden, then joining a CSA could be the perfect way for you to enjoy fresh, seasonal produce at an affordable price.

A CSA, which stands for Community Supported Agriculture, matches small farms directly with customers who want fresh, seasonal food. According to LocalHarvest.org, an online community for CSA farmers and customers, this approach to eating locally has been growing in popularity over the past two decades—just as consumers have become increasingly interested in organic produce and minimally processed foods. A CSA takes what you eat, quite literally, from farm to table.

How CSAs Work
 
A small farm sells shares in its harvest to local customers. For a subscription fee that can vary depending on duration and quantity, a buyer can sign up to receive regular deliveries of fresh, seasonal produce. The farmer arranges a regular schedule where customers can pick up a package of newly harvested goods. Sometimes farmers even deliver packages—this typically coincides with a grower's participation in local farmers markets. How much food you get from a CSA can range from a family-sized box of veggies delivered weekly throughout the entire growing season, to smaller portions for one or two people, or shorter options that provide four weeks' worth of fall greens. Some CSAs involve only a subscription fee, while others invite (or require) buyers to contribute "sweat equity" in the form of a few hours of labor on the farm each season.

If you like the idea of getting more in touch with the people who grow the food you consume, here are some helpful tips to get you started.

Embrace the adventure.
Joining a CSA is a culinary adventure—one best started with the expectation that you and your family will be offered the chance to try new foods. Before you sign up, ask the grower to describe typical spring, summer and fall deliveries to gauge what you'll be receiving seasonally. "We have been exposed to a lot of things we otherwise probably never would buy at a grocery store," says Theresa Ryan, a Cincinnati graphic designer who is a member of a Kentucky-based CSA. "Okra, kohlrabi, Swiss chard, and lots of different squashes like acorn, butternut and spaghetti."

Explore new ingredients.
Many CSA farmers send out weekly emails or blog posts to inform customers about the contents of each new shipment. Some CSA farmers also share recipes for preparing the goodies. Los Angeles writer Alissa Walker raves about the inspiration provided by her CSA. "I really like the challenge of having specific produce to work with when preparing meals, and I love going online and finding new and unusual recipes," Walker says. "Just in the last few weeks I've made ratatouille, lasagna with kale and chard, mashed potatoes with dandelion greens, butternut squash soup, vegetable soup, orange sherbet, watermelon and feta salad, cantaloupe and proscuitto, corn and tomato salad. And the salads we eat every day for lunch have become more colorful and unusual."
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About The Author

Bryn Mooth Bryn Mooth
Bryn Mooth is an independent copywriter and journalist focused on food, wellness and design; she's also a Master Gardener and enthusiastic green thumb. She shares seasonal recipes, kitchen techniques, healthy eating tips and food wisdom on her blog writes4food.com.

Member Comments

  • I love it. I pay 15-20 dollars every other week and they deliver to my job a large and very fresh bag of fruits and vegetables. Bag weighs about 16-18 lbs. they email a list. Of the food that week, you can substitute if you don't like something. - 3/31/2014 4:52:49 PM
  • I never heard of CSA before reading this article. After reading this article I went onto the internet and found a local CSA farm in my small rural community which I have lived in for 14 years and never heard about before. With summer on it's way I am going to be giving the owners a call and find out what I can do to participate this spring. Thanks for openig my eyes. - 3/30/2014 9:57:48 PM
  • My daughter and son-in-law didn't renew their subscription to their CSA because they got tired of eating leeks, and they weren't getting the vegetables that the CSA had on their monthly lists. On the surface it seems like a good idea, but . . . . - 3/30/2014 12:53:23 PM
  • This is such an interesting idea! I have never heard of CSAs before. I'm definitely going to think about it. I might just try the farmer's market idea for next summer since there are several near me and I'm leary of the financial committment up front and the need to pick up the produce weekly (that's tough with a very busy work / travel schedule). There's one in the area that attends a local farmers market. it would be a good way to get introduced to the farmer and what they offer. I'm definitely keeping it in mind! - 10/11/2012 11:46:47 AM
  • We've been a part of a CSA over the summer and have absolutely loved it. I took my 7-year old daughter to pick up our bag last week and had planned to purchase some bacon, so we could have BLT's for dinner the next evening. When we found out that they didn't have any left, I told her that we'd have to get some at the grocery store. She made a face, and said, "Ew! Let's just wait until next week!". - 10/11/2012 10:55:50 AM
  • I love my CSA!

    It is like opening a present every week to see what goodies I get. Then a culinary challenge to incorporate each of the choices into my meals. And a challenge to use it all before the next week, or freeze some of it for the winter. Only thing I don't like is when I get overwhelmed with lettuce, because you can't freeze it!

    I'm a little sad now because my summer subscription is over, now it will be back to the bland choices in the produce aisle. But I have squash and pumpkins available for a little while yet, they are a good seasonal choice right now.
    - 10/11/2012 10:37:56 AM
  • I invite you to join the CSA team. We are small but mighty- Good fellowship and recipe swaps for the adventure in produce that CSA bring! - 10/11/2012 7:55:24 AM
  • I tried an organic produce delivery service - not really a CSA - but the produce was not the best quality. I've looked into joining the CSA but it was too late to sign up when I looked. It's also quite inconvenient - you have to pick it up and it's only available one day a week in a 2-hour window from like 3pm-5pm. Guess they don't want to include people who WORK. And sadly, our farmer's market is more expensive than the organic produce at the store. It's also better quality, so I do go and get a few things every Saturday. If money were no object I'd buy all my produce there, but I just can't afford to go broke on vegetables. - 7/15/2012 2:51:25 PM
  • I have had a CSA membership for about 10 years now. It was a challenge at first to use everything (and to learn how to use some of it!) but now I can't imagine life without it - 7/15/2012 10:51:01 AM
  • I shop the local Amish stands - 7/15/2012 9:11:54 AM
  • I love my CSA!

    I know cost can be an issue for many people--the upfront costs are high to join. Many farms also offer "working" shares where you can volunteer for a certain number of hours and get reduced prices.

    - 7/15/2012 9:05:06 AM
  • I joined a CSA for the first time this past summer. I thought it was a great bargain and the only thing I had trouble with was using all the produce before I got my next box. I've found myself missing the fresh vegetables and am looking forward to deliveries starting back up in March. - 1/7/2012 8:26:47 PM
  • I've done the CSA route a few times, but in MN, it seems the farmer's market gives you much better bang for your buck...so you really have to watch to make sure the CSA is a good deal. Also, it wasn't really mentioned in the article, but I'd recommend going with an experienced CSA if you don't deal well with late deliveries and other "growing pains" that new CSA seem to inevitably put their subscribers through. - 1/6/2012 5:32:38 PM
  • We have been a member of a CSA for over 14 years. I don't know what I would do without it. Fresh produce at a fair price. Helping local small business. The only down side is that you don't get of choice of what you received in the box each week but that has also challenged us to learn how to vegetables we never tried before (which doesn't happen much now since we have been members so long). Highly recommend it if you have one available. - 1/6/2012 5:18:21 PM
  • I joined a CSA last year with my sister. The one thing we were not prepared for was the abundance of produce we got! We were sharing fresh, organic produce all summer. This year we have again joined the same CSA. The only thing we have decided to differently is to buy a freezer so we can freeze the produce that we are able. We are also considering learning how to can veggies and make jams with the fruits. our CSA also sells local eggs, milk, cheeses, honey, maple syrup and organic bread from local retailers with very little mark up. It's like one stop shopping! We love it! :) - 1/6/2012 2:56:17 PM

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