Ask the Readers: Joining a CSA
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As I get more into hunting down fresh and local food, I’ve been looking into joining a CSA this summer. It seems like the perfect way to get really fresh vegetables and support local farms.
What is a CSA? While us city-folk foodies may be familiar with the concept of a CSA, there are a bunch of people who probably don’t know what they are or what it even stands for. Take for example, 95% of the people in my home state of Wyoming. The concept of a CSA is probably very foreign to them because there are not a ton of local farms in Wyoming.
CSA stands for community supported agriculture. As someone who dabbles in investing, I like to think of it as a stock except it’s with food. So every year, you buy a “share” of a farm. The price of this share could be dependent on a number of things, but basically you are investing up front and over the course of a season or two, you will get some food dividends every week for that investment.
Honestly, this is the first year I’ve really considered joining one, but it seems like something that may be right up my alley. I did some research on Local Harvest and this is what I found out about CSAs. There seems to be a lot of benefits, but possibly one or two deal-breakers.
What’s good for you is good for them. There are a lot of advantages to a program like this. For the farmers, they shift some of their marketing type work to before the harvesting season. All of their produce is already sold basically. In the summer, they can just focus on growing and harvesting and then in the winter they can work on selling it. This spreads the work out over the year.
They also get money earlier. If you are a business-minded person you’ll know that it is always better to have money now rather than later.
As for the consumer, well, you get to know exactly where your food is coming from and get ultra-fresh local produce. In fact, most CSAs encourage (and some require) that you travel out to the farm a few times during the growing season. Also, you are supporting a local business and not buying food that has been shipped across the world.
But the best advantage by far is that programs like this put the farmer in touch with the eater. It’s something that has become completely removed from most people’s daily food experiences. I think that it is a huge advantage though and very important.
Share the reward. Share the risk. So the stock analogy I was making earlier works both ways. If the farm does well, you will be showered with lovely fresh produce all summer long. However, if the farm fails for any number of reasons (drought, family problems, bad business) then you are out the money and get very little or no produce.
Now, it is rare that something so drastic happens that you would get nothing out of the deal and obviously it is in the farm’s best interest to provide you with the best quality food possible so you will invest again next year, but if you’re on a very tight budget, it might be hard to justify as it could happen that you invest the money on the front end, and get no food out of the deal.
The cost. The cost of these “shares” varies greatly depending on the farm and what kind of stuff you get out of it. Some include dairy or meat or flowers or bread, and some are just fresh veggies. In general though, I found even the more expensive ones to be a good investment. Say the season for the farm lasts 20 weeks (that seemed to be about the average), and it costs $1000. That was the very high end of prices I researched. That is still only $50/week for really amazing, fresh, local produce.
In my mind, you can’t beat that.
But, I’ve just started researching these deals so I would love to hear from some Macheesmo readers. What do you all think? Are these worth the risk? Does anyone who reads Macheesmo participate? Any tips for selection given the huge number of farms available in some areas?
I plan to select one and update everyone on my choice. Of course, I’ll be using a lot of the food I get on Macheesmo recipes, so you’ll see the end results.
Photo by Burpee Gardens.