CSA’s: The What, Why, and Value

Real food is important to our family.  Real food with high quality is even more important. We buy strictly organic and only stuff with ingredients that I can pronounce.

But what about that produce labeled as “organic” at the local grocery store? Is it reeeallly organic? I’ve always had my doubts.

What is Organic?

First of all, what does organic mean?  The simple definition is (according to Oxford Dictionaries) relating to or derived from living matter.  So in the instance of agriculture and growing food it should mean that everything used in the production of such food is made from natural living things.  For instance fertilizer would be something like chicken manure or fish emulsion.  But is this true of all “organic” food production?

Unfortunately, not all organic food is equal. The mass produced organic food found at grocery stores is not necessarily the same organic food found at your local farmers market or local CSA farm.

The mass produced organic produce farms just have to adhere to the USDA standards of organic practice. What does that mean?

Well according to the USDA National List, in general, synthetic substances are prohibited unless specifically allowed but there are a limited number of non-organic substances allowed. If you’d like to check out the list of substances allowed in organic agriculture you can find it here.

Small farm organic production is all about integrity and quality. Most small farmers are as transparent as can be.  They love to answer questions and most will give farm tours if asked.

Now I understand that large scale organic farmers are just trying to make a living, just like non-organic farmers. BUT so are small scale local farmers.

Would you rather support a faceless entity when you buy produce from the grocery store or would you rather support the people who sit next to you at church or live down the road from you?  When you buy a CSA you do just that.

What is a CSA?

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture.  When you join a  CSA you purchase a “share” of the seasons crop.  Most CSA’s offer primarily vegetables, some will offer fruit, eggs and even meat. The seasons typically run about 16-20 weeks.  Although if you live in a climate that can grow year round CSA’s may be year round.

Our local CSA offers full and half shares. A full share is approximately a bushel and a half is about half a bushel.

Some CSA’s require on the farm work in exchange for produce and others do not.  When they do require farm work you usually have to commit to one day a week to work during the season. The farms that do not require work  you simply pick your box of goods up.

Most CSA’s are a weekly pickup at a designated spot.  The farm is most often the designated spot but some farms offer drop spots in the city.

What does a CSA Cost?

The cost of a CSA will vary by region but typically they cost anywhere from $300-$500 for full shares.  Our local CSA cost is $450 for full share which feeds a large family of 4+.  I know that the price gives some people sticker shock but if you break it down it is cheaper than getting conventional organic produce from the grocery store. Our CSA runs for 20 weeks so breaking that down, it costs $22.50 per week for a full share of organic, heirloom vegetables.  That is cheaper than I was paying at the grocery store! I typically spent at least $30 per week on organic produce at the store.

Most CSA farms expect payment up front but if you can’t come up with that amount I encourage you to ask about payment arrangements! These are small farmers who have families and understand what it’s like to have to make ends meet. Oftentimes you’d be surprised at how flexible they are.

Another option would be to split a share with another family or person.  Especially if you can’t eat all of the vegetables for that week, splitting can be a cost effective and less wasteful option.

Do You Get To Pick Your Produce?

You, most of the time, do not get to pick what you get in your share.  However, some farms offer a “swap table” where you can trade a vegetable in your share for one that you like more that is available on the table. You could also talk to other members and trade them if they are willing.  Or you could expand your tastebuds and try all the new and different vegetables!

Looking up new recipes on Pinterest (follow me here to see what I plan to do with my vegetables!) is a great idea for finding inspiration and new ideas.  Or you can ask the CSA farmer what their favorite way to prepare the veggies is. I’m sure they have great recipes to share.

So What Is The Value?

The value is really hard to define. I think it’s easier to look at all of the positives you and the farmer gain.  The positives include:

  • Healthy, organic food for your family
  • Supporting local family business
  • New and expanded tastebuds
  • Truly organic produce
  • Better tasting vegetables
  • Helping the environment by supporting environmentally friendly agriculture
  • Saves money (Try buying all organic produce from the grocery store for just over $20/week!)

All in all CSA’s are a great way to support local families, save money and have healthy food for your family.

Do you subscribe to a CSA? What would make you subscribe if you don’t? If you do have a CSA share, what is your favorite thing about it?




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