Fresh, local produce is a game-changer. Not only are you stimulating your local economy by helping farmers in your area, but fresh produce often ripens naturally, allowing the food to retain more nutrients while tasting better. While farmers markets are a great option, there may be an even smarter way to grab local produce on a regular basis: Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, programs.
Rather than going through a grocery store, CSA programs cut out the middleman, allowing local farms to sell directly to you. By selling shares of their harvests to consumers, they can offer anything from seasonal fruits and vegetables to eggs, meats, and milk and dairy products. Some CSAs also sell fresh baked goods, honey and flowers.
For an advanced fee, you can become a CSA member in exchange for a weekly delivery of fresh seasonal items. Prices vary Some CSA programs may also offer you a share in exchange for time worked on the farm (usually a few hours a month, but it can vary). Once you're in, every week you'll either pick up your box from the designated pick-up location or some CSAs will deliver directly to your home.
Often, boxes include a lot of fresh food, so if you're working on a tight budget or aren't cooking for a crowd, you could opt to split a share with a neighbor or buy a half share if the farm offers the option.
What Are the Benefits of Joining?
The biggest benefit is supporting your local farmers and your community. In return, you receive fresh, local food throughout the year or season (depending on when you join).
Opening each box is a surprise, as well! What you find in the box depends on the farm and the season, so people often receive produce they don't recognize or wouldn't normally pick up at their grocery. If you're a picky eater (or live with picky eaters) or you're not interested in trying new fruits and vegetables, a CSA may not be for you. However, if you have adventurous taste buds, the variability provides a unique opportunity to expand your palate and get creative by experimenting with new healthy recipes. Some CSA shareholders even have Facebook pages or group chats where they discuss their weekly treasures and exchange recipes. It's a wonderful way to learn about food.
On the flip side, CSAs can get pricey, with most packages falling between about $300 to $1,000 per year. Costs depend on location, demand, delivery or pick up, and length of time you receive a box. You can also find organic CSA shares, but due to the fact that it costs more to grown organic, they will be more expensive. Before you dive into the first program you find, do your research and check a few prices of CSA shares in your area to choose the right fit for you.
Join the Club
Due to COVID-19, many CSA programs now have a waiting list as interest in contactless food pick-up or delivery grows. Plus, supporting your local farmer is so important during these times. If you choose to join a CSA, do your research and check the availability. You can find a CSA near you by using your zip code at LocalHarvest.Org.