Get Growing: 11 Reasons to Join a CSA
Originally posted May 2018. Updated May 2019.
What is a CSA?
CSA stands for Community Shared or Supported Agriculture. It is sometimes called a farm share program. This is a model of food production where a group of people provide money up front to support a farm. In return, they get a portion of the products for that year. In many CSA programs, there is also a requirement to help with the food production. When it isn’t a requirement, members can often volunteer. CSA models are used for producing and selling vegetables, meat, eggs and dairy. A similar model, CSF (Community Shared Fishery) is used to support fishing families.
For the CSA I’ve joined, we pay in the spring, work at the farm three or more times over summer, and enjoy fresh vegetables from July through September.
Why join a CSA?
Many of these comments focus on vegetable CSAs but they would be similar for other types of CSAs and CSFs.
1. You get to know your farmer. With a CSA you are usually part of a small community that works together with a farmer. Though CSAs vary in size and engagement, you will usually get to know the person who is doing most of the farming and/or raising the animals.
2. You know exactly where your food is coming from. When you are a member of a CSA, you know where you food is being grown (or raised). You are working directly with one farmer or with a group of farmers working together. You will know how the food is grown – whether the farm uses organic methods, whether or not it certified, what equipment is used, whether the seeds are local heirloom varieties or not, whether irrigation is necessary, etc. You may get to discover urban farms you didn’t know existed in your community, shared community gardens in empty lots in your neighbourhoods, or lovely farms within driving distance of home.
3. Your food comes directly to you – and it is really fresh! With a CSA there are no “middle men.” You can often pick up your food at the farm or at a local pick up location. Usually the food was harvested that day or the day before. You may even pick your own vegetables right from the ground. In some cases, your vegetables are delivered to your door or can be picked up at a local business that partner with the farm. I’ve picked up food from a truck in parking lot and at people’s houses. Fresh food tends to have more flavour and more nutrients.
4. You are supporting the local economy. With a CSA, the money you pay goes directly to your local farmer. The farmer then decides how to use the money. Often people who run CSAs are also supporters of local food and local producers, so they will continue to spend locally. You also get to be part of their network where they share what they know about the local food market. For example, our CSA communities have introduced us to a source for fresh honey, a food co-op, the CSF we joined and other local providers.
5. You are encouraging smaller, local farmers. In a time when a large portion of our food is imported, it can be difficult for local farms to be sustainable. A CSA ensures the farm it has financial support and a market for its products. Usually farmers need to wait until they can harvest and sell their products before they have an income. With the CSA, they get the money they need at the beginning of the season to buy seeds and get started.
6. You get to work at the farm, without the commitment of caring for a garden all summer. I enjoy our workdays at the farm (about once/month), but I’m also glad I don’t need to be out weeding the garden every day. We do supplement our CSA vegetables with tomatoes, which are a family favourite we grow in our garden, but this is still a small responsibility compared to growing all our food.
7. You are part of a community. Our whole family enjoys spending a morning working with other member families. While we’ve been part of this CSA for about 8 years, some families who joined the CSA when their children were young are now bringing their grandchildren to help at the farm. We’ve met other families who live in our part of the city and we share weekly food pick-ups with them. At the end of the season, we enjoy a potluck with all the CSA members.
8. You get more variety than you could in your backyard garden. With the size of the “garden” at the CSA, you get access to more types of vegetables than you could fit in your own garden. Typically we get a three kinds of lettuce, plus spinach and kale; yellow and green beans and zucchini; four or five varieties of potatoes; several types of squash; fresh herbs; cabbage, carrots, corn, onion, garlic, leeks, broccoli and more. We also get vegetables through the whole summer because the CSA farm replants greens throughout the season. If was gardening at home, I wouldn’t have enough room to grow all these types of vegetables. With some farm share programs, you can choose which vegetables you want each week while others provide you with a variety of vegetables that are ready to harvest. If there’s a bumper crop of beans, be ready to eat them every day – or freeze them to enjoy in the fall or winter.
9. You learn about the challenges of farming. With a CSA there are no guarantees. If there is a late freeze after seeding or an early freeze before harvest, it affects what you get. If it rains on a weeding day, you may have to weed in the rain or reschedule for the next day. If it is a sunny day, you get the added benefit of Vitamin D.
10. You (and your kids) appreciate where your food comes from. My kids have grown up working at the farm each summer. They see how they can help with big job by doing their part. They also know what it takes to grow food. They’ve eaten peas right off the stem, smelled fresh basil, and they’ve learned not to throw corn at each other.
11. You get to try new foods and to be creative with new ingredients. Being in a CSA means you get a selection of vegetables each week. You don’t always know what to expect and there will probably be some foods that aren’t part of your regular diet. I’ve learned to use garlic scapes, kohlrabi, and sunchokes. I’ve also learned how to freeze, dehydrate and make pickles to preserve the food we get. While the price and value of your CSA will vary, you may find this a way to save money on your grocery bill. In our case, the quantity of vegetables is enough to feed our family for the week. At the end of each season, we get potatoes, onions, garlic and squash to last for several months. We’ve still been enjoying food grown at the farm in January, and our pickles and relish last until the spring.
How to find a CSA in your area?
There are several websites that list local CSA farms. If you can’t find one using these links, ask at your local organic food market or the farmers’ market. Someone there can point you in the right direction, or help you set up your own!
Have you participated in a CSA? What did you like about it? What was your favourite fresh product?