There’s nothing like a mysterious acronym to get you intrigued. If you’re here, you’re probably curious about what a CSA is.
Let’s start by unveiling the name: the abbreviation stands for Community Supported Agriculture.
Learn the fundamentals of CSA:
- What a CSA is.
- How it works.
- How to get involved.
Table of Contents
What is a CSA, and How Does It Work?
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is exactly what the name implies.
A regular community—like yours—agrees to support a local farm operation in exchange for access to fresh produce.
Before the start of every growing season, members of the CSA buy shares of the farm’s production.
After that, the members get to—literally—enjoy the fruits of their investments. The grower offers fresh fruit and veggies to members throughout the season. Some farmers may also provide other products, such as meat, dairy, and honey.
Often, the farmer will get input from the community as to what to grow. For instance, if everyone is clamoring for strawberries, the farm will oblige.
The agreement between community and farmer may be legal or based on good faith, depending on the situation. Usually, it’s the former to protect everyone involved.
Either way, the farm becomes a part of the community—both consumer and grower benefit from this partnership.
This video by the Ohio State University Extension elaborates:
What Is in a CSA Box?
A CSA box consists of the products you’ll receive from your local grower at set intervals.
Your box will deliver weekly or monthly, based on the arrangement you have.
Of course, the contents will differ depending on your location, the season, and the farm. On that note, it’s important to understand what you’re going to get out of a CSA.
The amount you pay upfront to the farm might also impact the contents of your box—for instance, if you participate in a CSA program for low-income earners.
If you’re expecting exotic fruits and gigantic boxes brimming with produce every time, you may have to manage your expectations.
Bear in mind this isn’t a mass-producing corporation: there are limits, and sometimes things don’t always go as planned.
What Are the Risks of a CSA?
On that note, CSA isn’t risk-free—if the growing season is poor, you probably won’t get your money back.
Similarly, it’s likely that you won’t be compensated if a cold front wipes out the tomatoes or kills off the sweet peppers you were craving.
What Is a Local CSA?
That’s the Community Supported Agriculture program that exists in your area—ideally, you should be close to the farm you’re getting produce from.
Community Supported Agriculture Benefits
The merits of a CSA are widespread—they don’t only apply to you, but others as well. These are the advantages you should bear in mind:
The Joy of Fresh Produce
No matter what your diet is like, we can all agree on one thing: fresher is better.
Let’s be realistic—not many of us have the time, space, or experience to grow the things we love to eat.
When you get your CSA box, you can delight in preparing and enjoying produce that you know is as fresh as it comes.
Some farms set up picking days, where members can come and gather fruit and vegetables straight from the plants—that sounds like a fun day out to us.
Know What’s in Your Food
Have you ever wondered what keeps produce in the grocery stores looking appealingly fresh?
Spoiler alert: it usually involves some form of processing.
Fruit and veggies in stores are frequently treated with preservatives such as chemicals or ozone treatment to improve the shelf-life. Additionally, the agricultural industry employs genetic engineering to create genetically modified organisms (GMO’s).
The animals we eat ingest antibiotics, which could contribute to antibiotic resistance in humans.
If you prefer your food natural and uncontaminated with synthetic drugs or chemicals, you can’t get a better guarantee than buying from an organic farm.
Organic farmers use fewer pesticides on plants and not as many antibiotics on their livestock.
Learn About the Process
With a CSA, you’ll have the chance to ask the farmer about their practices. If there’s something you’re concerned about (e.g., pesticide use), you can bring it up.
You’ll have the unique opportunity to get up close and personal with the journey your food takes from farm to table.
You can see the fields your vegetables are grown in, meet the chickens your scrambled eggs come from—and get to know the person or people responsible for all of it.
Usually, farmers are transparent and encourage shareholders to get involved. You may get newsletters from the farm, or get invited for tours to see how the crops are doing.
Help Local Farmers Out
As you may imagine, it isn’t easy for your average local farmer to compete against the massive agricultural industry. Small farms get wiped out by larger, specialized operations run by large corporations.
Running a farm isn’t cheap—livestock needs feeding, seeds bought, and crops maintained.
Your pre-season investment as a CSA member ensures your farmer won’t be caught short on expenses. In turn, that allows for better production—any business works more efficiently when it isn’t cash-restricted.
Aside from financial security, the farmer won’t need to struggle to find buyers for the farm’s bounty—it’s going to straight to you and other CSA members.
You’ll also form a personal relationship with those responsible for producing your food.
Save Yourself Money Long-Term
Have you tried eating all-organic only to be horrified at the expense?
Products that are certified organic are always going to cost more than conventional foodstuffs—especially if you’re buying them regularly.
Admittedly, the lump sum you pay to your farm as a membership fee might not be what you’d consider low-cost.
In spite of that, the numbers should still add up in your favor—CSA members do save on food bills versus going to farmer’s markets or other sources. Over 13 weeks, CSA members in Minnesota and Wisconsin saved up to 144 dollars.
Reduce Your Environmental Footprint
Industrial agricultural operations may be alarmingly efficient, but they aren’t eco-friendly—they can negatively impact water, air, and soil quality.
Runoff containing hormonal growth chemicals, antibiotics, and pesticides pose a serious threat to our drinking water worldwide.
Chemical fertilizers can deplete nitrogen in soils, which can render them unsuitable to support life. The livestock industry is another major pollutant, and animals are often kept and slaughtered under inhumane conditions.
Don’t forget that organic farms avoid the use of pesticides or synthetic fertilizers to promote sustainable agriculture. Livestock is usually raised in better conditions too.
Now, we’re not saying that joining a CSA will shut down these destructive industrial approaches. However, you’ll be limiting your role in supporting it.
Engage with Your Community
In the era of smartphones, real-life interactions aren’t always easy to come by.
A CSA is an ideal way of getting to know your fellow community members as well as local farmers. The whole endeavor fosters a sense of closeness: you’re all supporting the farm together as a team.
Your local CSA may also organize events alongside the farm for you to get together, volunteer, or hold discussions about how things are coming along.
You may find yourself learning new skills as well. You can learn how to cook with and preserve fresh produce so that nothing goes to waste—like making jam or pickles.
How Do You Join a CSA?
If you’re sold on the idea and you’re eager to start tucking into farm-fresh food, you’ll have to join a CSA first.
Since the government doesn’t keep a registry of CSA farms, you can check out Local Harvest at this link to find one close to your zip code.
Tips for Joining a CSA
We have a few tips for you to get the most out of your local CSA. Before you take the plunge, consider these suggestions:
Learn about the farm you’ll be dealing with. How much will you be paying? What will you be getting in your CSA box?
If there are several farms in your area that participate in CSA, compare and contrast to make the best choice for your needs. For example, some farms might not grow certain crops; others might offer bonuses like honey, etc.
Talk to members if you can—get feedback about the experiences they’ve had. That will also prepare you for what you can anticipate in all respects: financially, quality-wise, etc.
Check for Assistance Programs
You don’t need to be a high-income earner to benefit from a CSA. Programs such as Partner Share give financial aid to families that can’t afford the buy-in.
If you fall into the limited-income category, you can always see what’s available in your region. Or, ask your local farm if they offer any private programs.
You know what a CSA is and the reasons why you might want to participate in your local scheme—we hope you’re motivated to explore it further on your own.
Remember, you won’t only be doing good for yourself by way of fresh produce—you’ll also help your local farmers and the environment.
If you like this article, check out these others:
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Your Guide to Regenerative Agriculture
Ways to Reduce Your Plastic Use
The Ultimate Guide to Grass-Fed Beef
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