JH Weilnau Farm

  (Milan, Ohio)

How to pick a CSA

This is the time of year when farmers all over the country are ordering seeds for their local farms, and they are also asking the community to help defray the high upfront costs without a bank loan. In a Community Supported Agriculture or CSA the members help take on some of the risk of the farm by giving a farmer money up front in return for fresh local produce during the harvest season. CSA members generally enjoy the best crops that a local farm has to offer making this the freshest and most nutritious food possible without actually growing the food yourself. The risk for the community member is that if the farmer has a bad season, then the CSA members will not receive lots of wonderful fresh produce. Many people have wonderful experiences with their CSA, but it is important to pick a CSA that good fit for you and your family. Here is a list of things to consider when choosing a CSA:

1. Organic: Most CSA farmers are organic farmers, but organic does not mean that no sprays or fertilizers will be added to the crops. Organic farmers frequently use organic fertilizers to replenish nutrients in their soil. Some farmers get an organic certification from the National Organic Program that is part of the United States Department of Agriculture or USDA while some farmers choose to follow organic practices without the extra cost of certification. Certified organic farms generally charge more for their CSA to recoup the certification costs.

2. Heirloom: Heirloom basically means an old variety of vegetable or fruit. These are seeds that have been passed down from generation to generation. Heirloom seeds can add lots of spunk to a garden with green stripped tomatoes, yellow strawberries, green corn, and many other exotic looking vegetables and fruits. Heirloom vegetables can help you get a wide variety of flavors in your kitchen, but you will have to be flexible and creative in the kitchen. Heirloom varieties often taste very different than their conventional counterparts. With heirloom vegetables you may find yourself with a more astringent tasting tomato than you are used to or a sweeter tomatillo than you can find at the grocery store. If you are not up for an adventure, then look for a CSA that grows more fruits and vegetables that you can readily find in a grocery store.

3. Flexibility: Some CSAs offer lots of flexibility to choose what produce you would like to receive each week while others are very rigid and have a set basket every week. If you travel frequently, then some farmers will allow you to gift your weekly basket to other people or they will allow you to pick up your weekly basket at another time that is convenient for both parties.

4. Backup plan: Some farmers have a backup plan in case they have a horrible season. Often farmers will work in conjunction with other farmers in nearby regions to get produce from them if they have an awful season. The backup produce will not be 100% local, but this will decrease the chances that you will walk away with a weekly basket filled with just two potatoes, a few cherry tomatoes, and a small handful of green beans. 

5. Pick up or delivery: Some farms will deliver the fresh produce to your house while other requires you to pick up your produce at the farm or at another location. The convenience of delivery can save you time but will cost you more money. 

6. Work: Some farms offer a discount or free basket for people who volunteer on the farm. Likewise some farms require that all members volunteer on the farm while other farms require no volunteer work. Volunteering on a farm can be a great option if you are tight on cash but still want to fresh local produce. Not all farms need people on the farm volunteering. Some farms need help with newsletters, taking orders, or making websites so even people who are more included to the farming life can seek volunteer opportunities in some cases.

7. More than just produce: While vegetable and fruit CSAs are currently the most popular, they are not the only type of CSAs available in many areas. Some farms offer flower, grass fed meat, or egg CSAs to help you completely eliminate your grocery store. Some CSA farms also allow you to add extras to your CSA subscription like homemade breads, jams, nuts, maple syrup, flowers, or honey for an additional charge. 

8. Bulk quantities: Some farms will allow you to purchase bulk quantities from them for a discount on top of the weekly basket. Bulk quantities are great for canning and freezing.

9. Extras: There are many different types of extras that farms offer to entice new customers to join their CSA from farm visits, parties, book clubs, weekly recipes, and cooking classes. These extras can help you immerse yourself in like-minded individuals in your area.

10. Season: More and more farms are starting to offer winter baskets using green houses or hydroponic gardening systems. This will allow you to get more local fresh produce all year long. Some farms will align their CSA subscription with the local market season. 

Joining a CSA is a great way to support your local economy and get great fresh produce. Now that I have told you what I look for in a CSA, tell me what you look for in a CSA. I love hearing from you in the comment section below.
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Really love the way you wrote it our we have a CSA and your description is great

Posted by Debbie on January 27, 2014 at 02:23 PM EST #

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