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 WorkA 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."