What in the World is a CSA?

By Leah Kaminsky

Whether you’re the Queen of Whole Foods or the King of the farmer’s market, there are many ways to stock your kitchen with fresh, local produce these days. Still, too often these resources are a drain on your wallet, and it’s not exactly as if you walk away from the cash register feeling like you have a better sense of the farmer. Enter the CSA: an affordable solution that’s been spreading like wildfire over the past two decades. Here, I’ll break down just what in the world a CSA is, and why it might be a good option for you.

WHAT: CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. If you sign up for a CSA, you’ll pledge your support to a local farm for a certain growing season at a pre-paid rate, generally based on how far in advanced you sign up. You’ll receive a box of the latest harvests on a set day every week throughout the subscription period. Produce is always in-season and local because it’s shipped right from the fields to your door or to the local pick-up site. Some CSA programs also sell other types of add-on options, like meat and dairy.

WHY: CSAs are great for farmers because they put some of the risk on the consumer. If, for instance, there’s a drought and certain crops don’t grow, they still have your guaranteed subscription for that growing period (though they do generally try to make up for lost produce). They’re also better able to cut down on wasted produce by planting according to subscription numbers.

This guarantee allows farmers to keep their prices relatively low, so it’s generally worth it to consumers. Other consumer benefits include (of course) eating locally and organically, as well as learning to cook in-season. In many CSAs there are added community benefits, including shared recipes and the opportunity to work on the farm in lieu of a subscription fee.

WHO:

Families and community-minded singletons who want to share with friends.

The only downside about CSAs: in good years, you’ll find yourself overwhelmed with produce. Be ready to give some of your food away, or for long days spent cooking and freezing so none of it goes to waste. That way, you’ll always have “fresh” produce no matter what the time of year.

CSAs are a fun way to get involved and stay healthy. Type your city name and “CSA” into Google and see what you find!

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