Comments to 'The Challenge of CSA'

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If CSAs are to keep up their impressive growth trajectory, farms will need to attract more and more "mainstream eater". That, in turn, requires CSA farmers and CSA members to work together to find the right balance of unfamiliar items and old standbys, the right quantity of food so members don't waste, and where feasible, giving members some level of choice.

We would love to hear about your experiences with CSA. If you've been a CSA member for years, what do you like best about it? If you tried CSA but decided not to join again, what was your reason? For both groups, what do you wish you'd have known about CSA before you joined?

By: Bethany Lambert | Mar 4, 2011 11:19 PM | Permalink
I was not familiar with CSA's until recently, but once I began researching them in my area (Louisville, KY) I discovered a seemingly unique CSA distribution group that collaborates with over 60 farmers and producers in the area. Offering products like local cheese, milk, eggs, honey, bread, coffee, produce (of course), and items from local bakeries and such. (I even discovered the only soy sauce producer in the United States is from my county!) I began my CSA in the unconventional season of WINTER and was pleasantly amazed with the variety I was able to receive all winter (there were also a lot of canned items). But what I thought was fascinating about this concept was that the CSA distribution center was able to collaborate with so many farmers, build their consumer base, and ease the risk for the consumer and farmers. Because there was such diversity in my shares every week (even in winter), I ate probably 80-90% local food all winter. The concept is amazing and was started by a community of farmers who were all struggling through the transition from tobacco to produce. I've searched for any other type of CSA like this and have not found one, but I think it is brilliant and could answer many of the questions and dilemmas about eating locally year round.

By: Judith Brightman | Feb 21, 2011 02:10 PM | Permalink
2010 was our first experience with a CSA. We were pleased with the produce, flowers etc. we received, but were more pleasantly surprised with the education provided. In a time of nutrition experts urging us to eat more vegetable, we were able to do just that through introduction to new or different varieties and the knowledge of how to prepare them. The added benefit is knowing where our products come from and the assurance that they were grown without toxic substances.

By: Sharon Sheppard | Feb 5, 2011 02:34 AM | Permalink
We were very excited to join a CSA. It was a lot of money to pay up front and we ended up wasting too much food. We didn"t join the next year. I think if we got a new box of food every other week it would have been more affordable and we wouldn't have wasted any or as much of the food. Also if you go on vacation you still are resposible to pay for that food so we had freinds pick it up and use it or give it away.

By: Jean Lawler | Feb 4, 2011 09:36 PM | Permalink
I can't wait to sign up for the 4th year at my local CSA! Every time I go to the farm to pick up my share or to volunteer some time, I learn something new. It's fabulous. Each year the farmer adds new foods to the share and offers new opportunities to help out at the farm. The whole experience is incredibly nutritional and educational!

By: Laurie Higgins | Jan 31, 2011 03:14 PM | Permalink
Even though I would love to join a CSA, I never have because I can't afford the huge upfront cost. I live on Cape Cod and a few months ago our local commercial fishermen did a trial Community Supported Fisheries (or CSF). We only had to pay five weeks at a time, so that was in fact affordable. We loved the program and tried several new types of fish we had never tried before. If it continues we will sign up again. I know the idea is for the farmer to get all the money upfront, but CSA's would be able to reach a wider audience if they had a monthly fee instead of one big lump sum in the springtime.

By: | Jan 30, 2011 01:53 PM | Permalink
I have thought about joining a local group to have fresh organic or natural produce and other items during the growing season. I hesitated because I am on a special food plan and can't eat certain things, including some fruits and veggies. I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to use many of the items that would be distributed so that things might not get used or go to waste. Are the farms involved willing to work with a client in this respect?

By: Sallie Hane | Jan 30, 2011 03:54 AM | Permalink
Couldn't justify a 60 mile round trip once a week to pick up "local" greens and root veggies. Not the fault of the CSA, but no reason to continue membership. Unfortunately, our local farmer's market is 95% flea market--I think most nearby farmers find it more profitable to continue into the city to sell there. Other nearby farmer's markets are open only during most people's working hours. I find it extremely difficult to "eat locally" where I live.

By: Marlene Tramonte | Jan 27, 2011 08:14 PM | Permalink
I love my CSA! It's exciting to see what is in the box each week and devise new ways to use the produce. Every CSA is going to be somewhat different, but don't hesitate to talk to your grower about any concerns you may have. I bet they will be as flexible and accomodating as possible. For those of you who want it more individualized, your local farmers market is probably the answer. Thanks to White House Gardens CSA in Sharon Center, Ohio.

By: | Jan 27, 2011 07:57 PM | Permalink
In Iowa City, Iowa, farmers have teamed-up with local bakers and other food artisan to include some of their products in each box. One box may include pies, cookies or breads while the next may have local honey and eggs. The variety seems to help when the green doldrums set in.

By: | Jan 27, 2011 04:28 PM | Permalink
CSA's are great! I joined one about 15 miles from home, but as a worker's share because I don't have that kind of money to pay for it. I'll be going on my 3rd year now and it is so nice to be able to get healthy vegetables, fruit, and honey (she's a beekeeper too) all fresh and without any additives. I have learned to use many vegetables in many different ways and my family loves it too. It gives you an appreciation for how hard farmers work and how our food goes from the ground to our table. I love it! Thank you!

By: | Jan 27, 2011 02:47 PM | Permalink
My experience with two different CSA's has been great. Each of them is a conglomerate of many regional farms, which I think allows them to provide a good variety of products. I do occasionally receive an item that I don't know how to use, but both companies provide recipe suggestions which has been really helpful to get my creative cooking juices flowing. The current CSA I'm with also allows me to post notes on my web-based account page if there are items that I don't want to receive, and they will replace that item if it's in the rotation with something else. I believe that for the quality of the items and the convenience of the experience, the price is very reasonable and worth it. I feel great about supporting local farms and about cooking with ingredients from trusted sources.

By: decogirl | Jan 27, 2011 01:03 AM | Permalink
I love the CSA concept but have found it not to be economical enough to continue. Two years ago I was in one (my first) and had a positive experience. Unfortunately when it came time to renew for the next year, the farmer had increased the price by almost 40% and we just couldn't justify it. I signed up with another and received appallingly small quantities (what can I do with 7 fava beans pods?). I kept hoping the volume would increase as we got in to the heart of the season but it did not. I really liked the farmer and she was very responsive in returning the balance of my financial investment. It's very frustrating to know what your avg weekly expense is and realize you could easily buy the same amount and quality of products for much less.

By: nadine lew | Jan 27, 2011 12:14 AM | Permalink
Erin, Thanks for the great newsletter. I reposted it on our CSA blog so that our members (and members-to-be) have something to think about. We run a small CSA and some of the comments posted here have been especially helpful and insightful.

CSA's are NOT for everyone, as you suggest, and as a CSA farmer, it is as important for us to know our members as it is for the members to know us. It's surprising how much guilt a CSA box can elicit when members don't know what to do with a particular food and don't know how to express what their family's needs are to their farmer! It's mostly guesswork for us, we grow what we love, and hope that others like it too... so any and all feedback is really important.

I think that for some, a weekly visit to the farmer's market is a much better option than a CSA subscription. But for others, a CSA box helps alleviate a lot of decisions about what to make for dinner, helps members keep on track with eating fruits and veggies (easy to slack when there isn't a big box of fresh produce in your fridge), and helps people really get in touch with how food is produced.

I like the concept of a 'free box' where members can leave behind the produce they don't like, or take what others have left. But members have to be flexible too. Some people LOVE beets, and some people hate them. But what's a farmer to do? It is nearly impossible to please every family every time. The ideal CSA member is one who is excited about fresh, local produce, is adventurous in the kitchen, and can see the CSA as an extension of their own family/community. But for those who want to buy produce to check off the ingredient list from their favorite recipes, a trip to the farmer's market is a better decision.

By: | Jan 26, 2011 10:59 PM | Permalink
The Eating With the Seasons CSA is great! We have been members for many years. We like being able to order what we want from their large selection of fruits and vegetables. The vegetables are fresher than those at the local Farmers Market. The quality and variety is great!

We also like to get local eggs from chickens raised on pasture. Once a month we get to add a frozen meat purchase to our order. The pickup is close to our home; pickup day always feels like Christmas.

By: | Jan 26, 2011 07:42 PM | Permalink
One of the reasons I joined a CSA was to enjoy foods in season. I look forward to enough of the "expected" produce--e.g. corn in August!--as well as some produce that I typically would not purchase --e.g. eggplant. In our CSA, we have the option of indicating foods we would NOT want weekly. This has been most helpful, especially for someone who doesn't eat hot peppers.

By: | Jan 26, 2011 07:39 PM | Permalink
This will be my first year with a CSA and I am very excited to begin the adventure!

By: Rodger Swanson | Jan 26, 2011 06:40 PM | Permalink
We had a CSA membership last year, were very pleased, and have renewed. Our CSA does offer a 1/2 share, which is more than enough for two adults (that's us). That being said, we did experience some "overwhelm moments", e.g., "Not MORE yellow squash!" and "If I see another cucumber . . ." Most of these occurrences can be handled with better preparation on our part--i.e., making sure we have the supplies for freezing and/or canning on hand ahead of time. Offering complementary items (such as organic eggs, access to grass-fed beef suppliers, etc.) can be helpful in getting what's needed for preparing entire meals efficiently. As an aside, we are both on Weight Watcher's programs and the CSA products complement this effort beautifully.

By: Trent McNair | Jan 26, 2011 05:22 PM | Permalink
And to those that feel it's too much food and they can't find a way to consume it all, I recommend one essential CSA tool: A good juicer! And there are plenty of wonderful juicing recipe books out there. We LOVE our Breville juicer. Worth every penny.

By: Trent McNair | Jan 26, 2011 05:18 PM | Permalink
What about a co-op type CSA consisting of numerous farms growing a wide diversity of crops? Rather than just a box delivery option (with surprise contents), members can come to the 'hub' to pick their own contents each week.

By: | Jan 26, 2011 04:55 PM | Permalink
I have been a member of a CSA one time only and found that I could not consume all the food that was provided me. It's difficult to find a CSA that will allow a 1/2 membership.

By: suzanne levesque | Jan 26, 2011 04:35 PM | Permalink
Having been a member of csa's over the years and actually running one many moons ago, i think it is important to teach people about what you grow. opening the box and finding all these goodies is great, but you need to know what to do with it!! what we did is print out cooking suggestions along with the list of veggies that were in the box for that week so people had a recipe to follow. i know it is more work for the farm, but once you get the hang of it , it doesn't take that much time. I am a gourmet cook and cheesemaker so it was easy for me, but perhaps if you aren't a great cook, you can offer one person a complimentary weekly share in exchange for typing up the list and a few recipes, making copies for each member so they can be inserted in everyones weekly box. we also had compiled a small cookbook with nutritional info about different veggies and herbs we planned on growing the following season and gave them out to returning members with their first weekly box. hope this helps. suzanne/cheval farmstead dairy

By: Lynne Goldman | Jan 26, 2011 04:15 PM | Permalink
Nice piece. I agree about the challenges, particularly choice. I have suggested to our CSA farmers to do a member survey of vegetables (like/didn't like/ too much, etc.) but haven't seen it yet. Case in point: I have really tried Kohlrabi, really. Just don't get it, and don't want it. We have been introduced to lots of new veggies we like, though.

What's also interesting is comparing produce from several CSAs, and being able to see the difference in - dare I say it - farming ability. Maybe that's not a challenge in some areas, but here in Bucks County we have 12 CSAs, and some also sell at local farmers' markets. It's a little disheartening when you see better produce from another CSA.

All in all, it's been a great experience. We've ended up eating more veggies, and rediscovering old ones. Here's to local food!!

By: Jennifer Borchardt | Jan 26, 2011 03:03 PM | Permalink
Hi Local Harvest, Thanks for the ongoing efforts to help manage customer's expectations when joining a CSA. As a CSA farm we know first hand the challenges in explaining to potential customers how CSA programs work. We need to clearly define the RISKS involved as well as the rewards. The CSA movement is at a critical growth point right now and having people sign up that are likely to have a less than positive experience could affect the momentum we've all worked so hard to get moving. Please continue to remind folks shopping for a CSA to evaluate whether it's good fit for them. And yes, CSA members are going to get LOTS of kale. :-) Keep up the good work!

By: | Jan 26, 2011 02:54 PM | Permalink
I've belonged to 2 different CSAs. One I love because they allow you to skip a week whenever you want and then they add an additional week on the end. Because we travel a lot, this allows us to skip weeks when we're out of town and not miss out on the food. It would be cost prohibitive if it wasn't for this option. However, they get most of the produce from 800 miles away (it's not really a true CSA, since a few different farms are supported).

The other CSA was great because it was a mile from my house. So my veggies traveled only by bike - never on a gas powered vehicle! The produce was all great, although we did get A LOT of greens. When we got sick of salad, I would just put them in soups or curries though. I split it with 3 other friends to avoid the going out of town/missing out on food problem. The only thing I didn't like about this CSA was that we didn't get any fruit. I still had to make a trip to the farmer's market every week for fruit, and the grocery store for grains and spices. I felt like I was running too many errands all summer.

By: | Jan 26, 2011 02:26 PM | Permalink
My husband & I have both happily belonged to several CSAs in different parts of the country; we are also artisan chefs who currently run a cooking delivery business in the urban part of Dallas.

Based on that experience, my three major recommendations would be straightforward if not always simple: solve the transportation, the cooking & the waste problems.

We contacted or visited about a dozen CSAs where we now live so that we could offer their food to our clients. We needed to try to find one that would at least meet us halfway - we couldn't find one. I understand the small business challenge: we couldn't afford to drive 10-20 miles/week & neither could they. But couldn't someone - local CSAs or even Local Harvest - put together an affordable delivery service all local CSAs could use? (And think of the car emissions one delivery vehicle would reduce!)

I also know from our own clients that folks are more than a little overwhelmed by how to transform - usually quickly - all that often strange-looking produce into something they - or their spouse, or their kids - will actually be willing to eat. And make it with things they have handy. I don't think including recipes works - people's tastes differ too much. How about instead recommending websites that offer seasonal-produce specific, DIVERSE, recipe ideas (another thing Local Harvest should also consider doing itself.) And even with motivating recipes, lots of folks won't have the time to do them - so I think the ideal cooking website should also include "how to cook it if you need to freeze it" recipes as well.

Finally, I still think folks will have more than they often need or want to consume, but they still both want to eat fresh & local as well as support the CSA. How about (again, maybe Local Harvest) organizing an internet option of weekly being able to choose "please send all (or less) of my delivery this week to an appropriate local charity": a food bank, soup kitchen, etc. Many folks have told me they loved supporting CSAs & getting SOME fresh food but couldn't deal with the waste - this could eliminate that concern & also make folks feel good about supporting BOTH their local farmers & their local not-for-profit feeders.

Hope that helps!

By: Juliana Elton | Jan 26, 2011 04:51 AM | Permalink
We are members of a produce and a meat csa(separately). We love both, the produce Csa outsources in the winter, so it is not always local but we can always trust the produce. They also let you change items if there is something you don't like. We love it, we get it once per week and grow a garden in the summer and go to farmers markets, we love produce. The meat comes 7 times per year, you can sign up for chicken, beef, eggs or pork. We get chicken and beef. We do get liver, which we don't know how to cook, but everything else is great. I am so glad I don't have to buy supermarket meat, I don't trust it.

By: | Jan 26, 2011 01:55 AM | Permalink
I really enjoyed getting a new box of fruit and vegetables each week and tried cooking many vegetables that I never would have purchased at the grocery store. Unfortunately I ended up with a kidney stone at the end of the summer, I think due to the high oxalate content of the greens. I'm too afraid to get another kidney stone that I will not be joining a CSA this year.

By: sharon meade | Jan 26, 2011 12:46 AM | Permalink
CSA has been and continues to be a beautiful thing. My eating habits have changed 100% - I have tried - and loved- foods that I would not have experienced otherwise. I have become so much more aware of what is in my food, where it comes from, and the amount of work that goes into producing it. The cost of it makes sense from that perspective. I know what is going into my body. i have learned to can, to freeze, to design recipes from what I have on hand. I have had the joy of occasionally working the farm, and sharing that work with other like-minded folks. I encourage everyone i can to think about joining it.

By: | Jan 26, 2011 12:30 AM | Permalink
My local farm has a variation on the CSA where we prepay in Jan/Feb/Mar (with greater discounts for earlier signup) and then pick out whatever we want when supplies become available in the season. I live in Vermont and the farm is five minutes from my house so it is easy for me to get what I want when I want it, and I don't have to worry about waste. The farm sells from the greenhouses pre-season, and from the farmstand in season. Mostly produce, but also local eggs and bread. I think some other farms in Vermont are also switching to this type of CSA, but obviously it might not be practical if you don't live in farming country.

By: cynthia | Jan 26, 2011 12:17 AM | Permalink
My husband and I have belonged to a local CSA, Freehome Gardens for 4 years, and I have occasionally worked at the garden. We eat almost everything and share when we can. We appreciate the freshness of the harvest and that the food we are eating are grown without harmful pesticides.

We also appreciate that we eat what is in season. We will not buy any produce from the market that is not grown in the U.S. What this means is that we only eat what is seasonal to the US. Corn on the Cob may not be available in November, Strawberries too. I know the source of my foods, and that is important to us.

We share in the abundance of the garden and we share in the risk. Late freezes, dry spells, heavy rains all impact the garden.

We have also learned to live with bugs. I no longer squeal when I see a spider or a bee. They are what keep the garden in balance.

By: | Jan 25, 2011 11:40 PM | Permalink
I belonged to a CSA, splitting a share with my daughter, several years ago. It was wonderful. A blackboard listed what each share was for that week. There was a table in the center for items people didn't want so they could share them with others. The price was high especially because we were unable to do a work share which cost less. Regretfully we couldn't continue because it was an hour's drive away.

More recently we discovered a CSA much closer and signed up for a share. It was disappointing. There was far less. Each share was boxed ahead so you couldn't leave what you didn't want for others. Worst of all was that the items the farmer was selling at the farmers market: those that kept longer and could be stored into the winter, were ridiculously few. We knew they grew them because they were at the farmers' market.

If it had been my first experience we would have been finished. However I know what a CSA can be so we are signing up for another one just a little further away. Hopefully they still have room. And hopefully they are more honest.

By: cynthia | Jan 25, 2011 10:46 PM | Permalink
This is my fourth year with Harmony Valley in Wisconsin. I live in Minneapolis, and they deliver up here to the cities each week. I walk to my drop spot which is about a block away.

For the past few years, I have been sharing with another family as my teens have been growing up and moving away. It works well for both families to split the box each week.

We love to cook and we love the new vegetables that we get in the box. But the best part is supporting a group of people who are doing important work, doing it well, with a conscience.

They provide an abundance of clean, healthy vegetables, fruit and cheese that are organic and in season.

By: Maggie A. Calmels | Jan 25, 2011 10:41 PM | Permalink
Well let me tell you , I will love to sign for csa , but I can't, because everytime i search all of them say it is not near me,I'm in ormond beach, fl, the only thing I can do is buy thru local harvest, but not my eggs or produce , or wherever is fresh,

By: Emerald Estock | Jan 25, 2011 10:45 PM | Permalink
I've had summer and winter csa's that deliver to my neighborhood, that deliver to my door, and where I've had to pick up. I've had meat or meat and egg csa's, and veggie. I've also bought from a market that emails me the current weeks offerings, I order and pay online and then pickup. (great model, but pretty far from where I live) I have access to a weekly farmers market with local goods all year long. I know how to cook, can and have a freezer.

I cook a lot, we generally eat at home due to multiple food intolerances, but I can only handle so much produce showing up at one time. Workload and space in the fridge.

The csa experiences that have been the best offer smaller portions for our small household, some choice and delivery. I want the choice for food intolerances as well as preference. Even then, there's the frustration of all those radishes and way too much lemongrass. Thank goodness for the freezer for the excess squash and okra.

I don't mind the weird asian greens, perhaps I will like them someday,Iand I am glad to be able to opt out from too many starchy veg. Also, I am very glad our farmer is taking suggestions - he's adding brussel sprouts and savoy!!

I much prefer delivery. a pickup every week or even every other week is hard. Yes, I have to shop for food each week, but I don't have to go to a certain place at a certain time no matter what the weather.

All things being equal, the delivered, veg, winter csa is the best. Much better greens than I can get at the farmers market, if there are even any offered and the grocery store stuff looks limp and tired or is from california.

I don't mind going to the market in the summer and then the market is open 2x a week and of course, my own garden is going. I have a few overwintered things too, but not a lot of space.

I do not care for csa that offer baked goods or soap, etc. I would not buy prepared foods from a csa (because it wouldn't be prepped in a gluten free kitchen)

By: Molly Puente | Jan 25, 2011 09:34 PM | Permalink
I just signed up for my third season with my CSA, and the reasons I decided to rejoin are:

1) Norman's CSA offers a lot of choice each week, so I don't often get that sort of fatigue others are describing.

2) I joined because I moved from an agricultural area (NC) to an urban area (DC), and felt I was missing "real" food. Because my reason for joining was more about the purpose of the local food movement than the economics, whenever I find myself succumbing to green fatigue, I just invite a friend to split my share for the week. I think having the attitude that "shared food is money well spent" is critical if you join by yourself (even with a half-share!)

3) I'm a young person and I do like to cook. I would recommend that anyone thinking of joining a veggie CSA, get a general vegetable cookbook. I use one called "Serving up the Harvest" by Andrea Chessman, which not only provides recipes but also basic preparation instructions and conversion equivalents. I also really appreciate my CSA's weekly recipe newsletter. I enjoy cooking- but sometimes I need that boost to my creativity!

In short, good choice, good friends, and good inspiration make for my good CSA experience.

By: | Jan 25, 2011 09:31 PM | Permalink
i love my csa, Earthen Harvest in jackson, NJ and I am glad that local harvest let me find them three years ago. I reccommend both to many friends in Asbury Park. However, i found that many of my friends cannot afford to pay for a csa membership. rather than commenting on the benefits and the obstacles, i would like to ask the people at local harvest to post information on the following question: what programs are communities organizing or CSA's structuring in order that poor and working class people may buy into CSA's as a group? this can improve peoples access to quality food as well as increase the market for CSA's.

I will say that Earthen Harvest delivers their veggies. this is incredibly important to their maintenance of membership.

By: Laurie Heller | Jan 25, 2011 09:10 PM | Permalink
I agree with the comments below about Farmer's Markets. I love going to my Sunday Farmer's Market (in Sacramento CA) - for it's diversity of produce, meats, fish, chicken, herbs, oitls, cheeses, plants, breads... etc etc. -- not to mention all the neighbors I bump into there! Plus, from May through October there are TWO Farmer's Markets (Tuesday and Wednesday) within walking distance of my office - both with vendors selling lunch items too! .Since these markets are some of the joys of my week (and my way to eat local, seasonally and support family-owned farms) I would do it anyway. Therefore the CSA box I ordered for six months last year wasn't needed. (And I thought it was expensive, without the flexibility to economize one week and splurge another.) Of course, I still appreciate the CSA system and know it works for many people -- especially if they don't live in the Central Valley of California.

By: Maria V Connors | Jan 25, 2011 08:38 PM | Permalink
This will be my 5th year with my CSA, which I found through this site John Kruger's Starbrite Farms in rural NJ. I live in urban NJ so having a steady supply of fresh organic veggies is just what I wanted.

There have been good years and bad years according to the climate each season. Overall I have been well satisfied by my farmers efforts and it a pleasure to be able to say I met the person who grows my veggies.

It is just my husband an myself, but, I have a larger extended family with children and grandchildren who benefit from my choice to go organic. We have gotten better at utilizing what we receive each week during the growing season. My CSA also is made up of a great group a people which has a social gathering together to share a meal with our farmer close to the end of the season. Long live our farmers and CSA's.

By: | Jan 25, 2011 08:38 PM | Permalink
I was a mamber of a local CSA, but decided to stop for several reasons: 1. I live in Manhattan, NYC, and have a very large Farmers Market, open 4 days a week, year round, within walking distance, where I can purchase what I want, in the quantities I want. 2. At the CSA, I paid for food when I was on vacation or couldn't get there during the restricted hours, one day a week. 3.If I couldn't use all the food or didn't want to, I had still paid for it. 4.I use herbs alot and the portions from the CSA were very paltry. One fifth or less of what I get at the farmers' market. 5.In general, the portions of the things I really like were paltry and the portions of thinks I don't really want were big.

In short, I can buy what I want, when I want, at a better price, at the Farmers Market. I realize that I am blessed, because in addition to the Farmers Market, I have great health food stores, vegetable markets and supermarkets nearby. I don't need a CSA.

By: Renee Burton | Jan 25, 2011 08:32 PM | Permalink
For us, the summer CSA we joined was a great introduction to the options for local produce, but also left us sometimes stressed with too much of one type of produce or another. Like squash. In the end, we did not renew the next year because we wanted more control of our weekly produce and also in order to interact with more farmers, more directly.

Having said that, this is our first year with a Winter CSA and we love it. Having fresh produce locally grown through these cold months, organically grown even more so, is just fabulous. Our entire group, six families, is ready to sign up for another year.

By: | Jan 25, 2011 08:15 PM | Permalink
I am about to sign up for my fourth season with my CSA. The first season was a challenge -- what to do with all those greens?? But we soldiered on and found that we love Swiss Chard, arugula, collards, and all types of kale. I love that we are supporting a local organic farm and the environment, and that our produce is truly fresh. It has changed my purchasing habits in other ways: I now also source all of our meats, poultry and dairly locally. When there is a food recall, I don't have to worry because I know where our food came from! We are healthier as a result, and I have lots of new farmer friends!

By: Pat Bitton | Jan 25, 2011 08:03 PM | Permalink
For me, CSAs are all about supporting local farmers and encouraging them to keep producing great food. But I am a one-person household, and I like to spread my support around. I do regularly renew my membership in our one and only grain CSA, but for produce, it works better for me shop the farmer's market and the co-op to purchase only what I need each week - a CSA share is way too much food for me. Perhaps when I retire I'll have the time to either cook and preserve more or organize shared CSA memberships with friends, but unfortunately that's not feasible at the moment.

By: J & V Volin | Jan 25, 2011 08:03 PM | Permalink
I was a member of a CSA for just one year, as it ceased it operations the year after our arrival in CT. We loved the experience itself: going to the farm with our children once a week, picking up our produce, chatting with other members and with the farmer. We loved getting "stuff" we would not otherwise get and trying to make something with it. We never threw anything away and used what we got as best as we could. Our freezer was packed at the end of the season.

I wish the CSA had continued. Instead, the year of my membership Whole Foods opened in town: selling to Whole Foods instead than running a CSA may have appeared more lucrative to the farmer, and maybe much easier. You can not support something or someone who does not want to be supported.

By: Martha Lynch | Jan 25, 2011 08:05 PM | Permalink
Our family joined a CSA three years ago. Our weekly trips to the farm have been every bit as nourishing for our spirits as for our bodies. It has led us to reconnect at a deeper level with Mother Earth, each other, and the people who bring food to our table. Knowing our farmers and eating the food they have harvested with their own hands becomes again a sacrament. The experience has brought us to new understandings about the web of life we are part of, and has ushered in profound feelings of gratitude.

A note of advice - the first season was a time of adjusting to new foods and new recipes, and a time of learning to be more flexible with menus. So, may you be patient with yourself, and approach a CSA with a sense of openness to something new. If you are looking for encouraging reading while you ponder joining a CSA, I suggest reading Barbara Kingsolver's book, "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle".

For us, being part of a CSA has been transformative! We can hardly wait for the coming season to begin!

By: Suzanne Maranda | Jan 25, 2011 07:53 PM | Permalink
I wish the CSA I bought from last year, would offer to people like me who just wants to buy what they like. I understand they also go to a Farmers Market with the extras they have, so I guess I'll have to go there. But it would be closer for me to go directly to the farm. Waste less gas in my car!

By: Florence Trossello | Jan 25, 2011 07:44 PM | Permalink
I've belonged to one or another CSA for years. First, i belonged to a very large CSA in Pennington, NJ. It was wonderful and strictly organic. I really enjoyed the variety of vegetables...many of which I may never have tried before. I also believe it is very important to eat organically grown food so the situation was ideal. Now I live in North Eastern PA and belong to a very small CSA which is also great. I'm supplied with a variety of vegetables as well as, occasionally, eggs and / or meat. It is not totally organic, but close to it. The cost is extremely reasonable. I could not get the quantity, quality and variety for the price in any local super market. I would never stop buying from a CSA unless there were none in my area....they are the best!!!!

By: | Jan 25, 2011 07:41 PM | Permalink
I've belonged to two CSAs at different times - for a total of about three years/extended seasons. While I love trying new things, many times it seemed that there weren't enough of the items that I like best, while there was an abundance of items that I was less enthusiastic about (sorry, even though I like them, there really is a limit on how many radishes I can eat). To top it off, the CSA that I belonged to most recently was very pricey and we just couldn't continue to justify the expense for what often did not translate into great value and quality at the dinner table. Sadly, too many others must have felt the same way because that farm has decided to discontinue its veggie CSA and focus on other items instead.

What has worked great for me is finding a local farmer who lets me drop in once a week or two during the season to pick up whatever's fresh and ready for the farmers' market. She has some Pick Your Own fruits and plenty of good veggies that she sells by the pound. I like to put up produce for use in the winter, so we make arrangements by email when it's time to pick up a good quantity of tomatoes, peppers, etc. for canning or freezing. She doesn't grow anything exotic and her selection is nowhere near what the CSA offered, but what she grows, she grows well and organically - and sells affordably.

By: Jennifer Bowen-Shauver | Jan 25, 2011 07:37 PM | Permalink
I belonged to a meat CSA which I loved. The only reason we stopped using it was that my husband is a hunter and we had so much wild game meat that we couldn't keep up with the meat - especially because I like to do vegetarian cooking. We got a great quantity and variety and it was all frozen, so no time pressure.

I tried a fruit and veg CSA for a spring season. We enjoyed the rhubarb and asparagus and thought the quantity and quality were good, but it was a wet spring and so the farmer was forced to give us a LOT of overwintered roots. I used to like turnips and now I don't. We did decide to give that CSA a try for an entire year the next year, which is just over, and also got chicken and eggs with them.

Once again, the quantity was plenty to too much. The quality was good. I felt that we ate more vegetables than we otherwise would have and certainly a wider variety. However, three times I had to pick up a box of perishables right before going out of town, because there is no flexibility on pick up. Several times weather meant that delivery was either canceled or we received a box of stuff that was already compost. I never went to the farmer's market because I was so busy dealing with all the CSA veges and yet the CSA never gave us any tomatoes, so we really didn't eat any.

And even though I was OK with trying new vegetables, at the end of the day my family does not like radishes, kohlrabi, jalapeno peppers, or arugula and we kept getting mounds and mounds of those things. Plus turnips. We really got burnt out on the undesirable vegetables. I found at least one reasonable way to serve each one - but it was still too much.

I did a cost and quality analysis and at the end of the day I think I can do better through the farmers market and Whole Foods. I am going to try to use the experience to remind myself to buy and eat a wider range of vegetables, but I won't miss opening my box every week and having my heart sink when I see yet another giant bunch of peppery radishes or two huge bags of arugula.

By: Elaine Good Dale Bachman | Jan 25, 2011 07:33 PM | Permalink
We've had memberships in our local CSA for several years (and I've been a member of fresh produce/grains coops since the early 1970s) and were completely satisfied with the food and the quality and the selection. However, I've come to learn this about myself: most days I don't watch the clock very closely and some days I don't even know what day of the week it is (I work from home.) This made it tough to make it to the pick-up point at the right time; I found that quite embarrassing. This year I'm trying something different; a neighbor will be picking up my box and delivering it to my house.

By: WENDY WITT-KARCH | Jan 25, 2011 07:25 PM | Permalink
I really enjoyed it when I belonged to a csa for a year. It was a good mix of the familiar and unfamiliar vegetables. I did not sign up the following year as the driving distance every week proved difficult with children. I kept worrying about the impact of all that driving on my budget and the environment. But the vege's were great!

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