There is nothing like fruits and vegetables freshly picked from the garden but for many growing their own vegetables and fruits is not an option or they can only grow a small amount. I love to grow fresh produce right in my backyard, on my deck and even on the windowsills in my kitchen but my family can’t survive on the small amount we grow each season. I often supplement our own fresh vegetables and fruits with what I can find at the local farmers market. You could say I am a bit of a locavore, or someone who prefers locally grown foods. My meat comes from local farmers and during the growing season so does my produce. Buying locally means your money stays in the community and in return benefits you and your neighbors.
This year I have joined a CSA or Community Supported Agriculture program. A CSA is a great way to support a local farm and get fresh produce all season long. CSA’s work by farmers selling shares of the upcoming season’s crop. The share or membership to the CSA is paid in advance and that money is used to buy seeds, equipment, and other expenses. Selling shares of the crop in advance allows farmers to concentrate their time and money on the crop instead of marketing and at farmers markets. In return a member of the CSA will receive each week a box of produce freshly harvested from the farm.
A great benefit to being a member of a CSA is that your box will be filled with a wide assortment of produce each week, making you will be more inclined to try new a vegetable or fruit. You might have been clueless of how to prepare and a bit frightened of Swiss chard at the grocery store but once it’s in your kitchen you will discover a new appreciation for the green. Having a fresh box of produce thrust upon you each week will also encourage you to cook more at home and in return eat healthier. Plus it’s environmentally friendly since the farmer doesn’t have to waste fuel driving the produce back and forth to market, saving our environment from harmful greenhouse gas emissions.
One of my favorite parts of joining a CSA is visiting the farm. I think it’s great that you can actually go and see where your food is coming from. Walk along the rows of beans or help pick fruit in the orchard. Most CSA’s offer pickups at the farm or at least hold ‘open houses’ for members to visit and learn about the farm. Some farms even offer pick-your-own and classes. Another benefit of going to the farm is taking kids with you. Children love running through the fields, visiting with the animals and learning more about where their food comes from.
Memberships can cost $200 and up making it an investment that should be considered and not jumped into. If you are considering joining a CSA there are a few things you should know before signing up:
~Most CSA memberships provide enough vegetables for a family of 4 (2 adults, 2 children) or 2 vegetarians for a week. That’s a lot of food, if you don’t love vegetables you might want to reconsider a CSA.
~You will be getting a box of raw fresh produce every week that must be properly cleaned and stored. Make sure you have the time and inclination to do a lot of cooking at home.
~Farms don’t take vacations. You will have a box of produce every week for the growing season. If you travel a lot or a schedule that changes often you may have a hard time picking up your box each week. The good thing is that if you do want to take a vacation a lot of CSAs offer to let someone else pick up your box that week or they will deliver it to a local food bank for you.
~As the season progresses you will receive more produce in your box each week. Most likely you there will be weeks where it is just too much for your family, so it’s good to have a plan for the extras. Neighbors, friends or family members are generally willing to receive your surplus or you can donate it to a local food bank.
~An important thing to remember before joining is that in owning a share of the farm you are also purchasing a share of the risk. If there is a drought, flood, or blight the shares of the crop will suffer. It can go the other way too with a fantastic growing season in which case this will benefit the shares.
~Not all farms are equal; you will want to do your research to find the best farm for you. Whether that means a farm that grows only organically, one that just tries to grow all-naturally or one that grows a lot of fruits and not just vegetables. Location is important also, do you want the farm or pickup location close to your work or your home.
Here are a few websites to help you in your search for the perfect CSA for you: