This guest post is written by: Julia. She is mom to Marcella, a just turned 2 year old and blogs at A Little Bit of All of It on a variety of topics. You’ll find product reviews and book reviews along with her take on babies, parenting and childbirth. She also volunteers at Natural Parents Network and can be found on Facebook and Twitter as well.
Last summer I joined a CSA for the first time. If you are not familiar with what a CSA is, hold tight, because I’m about to tell you.
CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. We, along with other members of our community, purchased a share for the spring and summer months in a local farm and in turn we received fruits and vegetables every week during the time period specified by the farm. In this way, we are supporting local agriculture. The farm had three pick-up locations, days and times to choose from and we would just show up every week and pick up our box. All of the food was local and organic.
Why a CSA is Awesome
The thing I liked best about being part of a CSA was knowing each vegetable and fruit we received was totally organic and locally grown. That is really a big deal to me. Honestly, it is hard for me to buy organic at the grocery store. We are on a really tight budget and I have a hard time paying so much more. With the CSA, however, even though I knew I was paying for it, since we paid in advance it felt like it was free. I always felt really good about feeding these fruits and veggies to my family knowing they were pesticide free. They were normally still covered in earth and had that earthy smell to them. I don’t know; I just really thought that was cool.
I relished in the challenge each week to create new, healthy dishes to use up the produce we received. I would probably never buy turnips on my own, for instance, but found out I really love them in mashed potatoes. I also got to experience things I didn’t even know existed like fingerling potatoes and blue potatoes.
Probably my favorite “discovery” was green tomatoes. The only way I had ever had these was fried. (I live in the Southern United States, after all.) I received a lot of these towards the end of the summer from the CSA though so I needed to get creative to use them up. These are seriously delicious and I never would have known that had it not been for my CSA! I have never seen these sold in stores in my area anyway. I am really looking forward to getting ahold of some of these again late this summer to make the most delicious bread ever!
I also found this forced me to be healthier in general. Knowing that I had swiss chard in my fridge that was about to go bad meant I would make a green smoothie for breakfast or a midday snack for me and my daughter that day. Instead of frozen veggies (which aren’t a horrible choice but not as good as fresh) for dinner, I usually always had fresh vegetables to serve. And having fresh raspberries for a summer treat was divine.
Not-So-Awesome Aspects of a CSA
For all the pros of a CSA, there are also some cons. I wouldn’t be being honest if I didn’t mention them. The biggest one I can think of is the possibility that you’re going to get a lot of something you may not like. If you hate tomatoes (hard to believe that anyone could but I have two friends that do!), you wouldn’t have been very happy with the plethora I received, for instance. I got A TON of tomatoes but I love them and use them a lot during the summer so this was a boon for me.
However, we also got a lot of okra. We both like okra, however, this mama found out I can’t cook okra to save my life. And I had plenty of opportunities to test this out. The most success I had was with a Chicken Gumbo recipe but every other attempt failed miserably so more okra in my box was just a source of frustration to me.
Another drawback is the hassle of picking it up each week. Let’s be honest, gas is super expensive these days so avoiding making extra trips is high on a lot of people’s priority lists right now. If you happen to be close to your pick-up spot, you’re in luck. However, we didn’t have one all that close to us and it wasn’t even close to anything else so I was making a special trip each week to pick up. It was also something I would have to schedule around as well since it was right smack in the middle of when I normally would be making dinner.
When you sign up for a CSA, it is kind of like that marriage vow where you promise “in sickness and in health”. You are agreeing to profit from a good harvest or sucking it up if there is a bad one.
Our farm had a MAJOR grasshopper problem along with troublesome weather issues that made for less than ideal crops. There were weeks at a time where we actually didn’t even get boxes of produce at all because they just didn’t have enough to give. Because our farmer was awesome though, they made up for it by adding extra weeks to the season, but they were in no way obligated to do this. We also got farm fresh eggs one week because there wasn’t as much produce, which was nice.
Cost may also be an issue for you. It would have certainly been for us. However, what we were able to do was split the cost (and food, of course) with another family (my parents.) There were only 2 of them and 2 of us (plus a 1 year old) so we found there was enough food to split up. If you have a bigger family this may not be feasible, but it worked well for us.
Am I happy we tried out a CSA last summer? YES! I really enjoyed the experience.
I’ll admit that I wasn’t sad when it ended (I kind of dreaded that out-of-the-way pick up honestly) but partly that was because it ended up lasting until the fall because of the grasshopper and weather problems and the many missed weeks. But I throughly enjoyed the experience and hope to do it again sometime. (The farm we used last year is not doing a CSA this year so they can have a year to recover from the problems of last year.)
I think it is one of those things you should at least try once in your life just for the experience of it. So what are you waiting for? To find out where a CSA is in your area, check out Local Harvest or just ask around! You can also chat up the farmer’s at the Farmer’s Markets around you, and ask if they have one. Even if they don’t, they can point you to another farmer that may.
Have you ever been part of a CSA? What was your experience like?