Community Supported Agriculture: What it is, how it works, and why it’s worth considering

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Tis the season for fresh, locally grown produce, farmers’ markets, restaurants boasting seasonal menus, and community gardens bursting at the chicken wire. Another way to enjoy just-picked, seasonal goodies is to join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm. No, you don’t have to till the land and harvest the crops (although the farmers would probably let you come volunteer if you wanted!). By joining a CSA, you’re paying a fee to get a box of farm-fresh produce delivered weekly either to your door or a convenient pick-up site. Sound interesting? Read on.

What is Community Supported Agriculture?

At their most fundamental level, CSA farms provide a weekly delivery of sustainably produced food to consumers during the growing season (approximately June to October). Those consumers, in turn, pay a subscription fee to the farm. But CSA consumers don’t so much buy food from particular farms as become members of those farms. CSA operations provide more than just food; they offer ways for eaters to become involved in the ecological and human community that supports the farm.

Something to keep in mind is that while membership in a CSA farm means sharing in the bounty of the season, it also means sharing in the risks. At times, raising food in the Upper Midwest can be quite challenging due to inclement weather, pest infestations, and other factors beyond the farmers’ control.

Photos courtesy of Costa Farms

Photos courtesy of Costa Farms

Selecting a CSA

There are many factors that determine which CSA farm to join. How big of a share do you want? How often do you want your share delivered? For how many months? These, and other factors, vary from farm to farm. Here are some of the most important things to consider when making your choice:

Location: Keep in mind the driving distance to the pick-up site or the farm when considering your level of involvement and the involvement expectations of the farm.

Pick-up Site/Delivery Day: CSA farms have various delivery options and dates. Most farms deliver shares to a common pick-up site, but a few deliver to your door. Others require you to pick up your share at the farm or help with deliveries.

Length of Season/Number of Deliveries: The length of season and number of deliveries varies among the farms. Most begin in May or June and run through September or October. Some farms have an optional winter delivery for an additional cost.

Types of Produce/Add-ons: Most CSA farms offer a wide variety of seasonal vegetables, with some offering unique extras to standard shares. Some farms also give members the option to buy honey, flowers, eggs, wool/yarn, meat or other specialty items at an additional cost.

Opportunities for Involvement: Community building is an important part of the CSA approach. Most farms encourage involvement via special events or invitations to visit the farm. Some farms expect involvement as part of membership.

Next page: Questions to ask a CSA farmer and how to find one

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