To CSA Or Not To CSA

For those of you thinking about joining a CSA farm, it’s getting close to time to make a decision.  If this acronym is new to you, it stands for Community-Supported Agriculture.  Becoming a part of CSA farm is a great way to make local and sustainable choices.  When you choose to participate in a CSA, you purchase a share of the farm in the winter season, providing critical cash flow for the farm at a time when they don’t have much or anything to sell, and when they need to buy seeds and fertilizer and equipment and many things that I know nothing about.  It’s a great way to ensure that local farms have the capital to continue from season to season, and it means that you, the customer, share both crop bounties and failures.  In our two seasons as CSAers, we have been astounded by the variety and quality of produce that we receive.  The two images below are our share from one midsummer week last year.

As you might be able to tell from that initial paragraph, and perhaps from my lovingly assembled pictures, I’m a fan of our CSA. However, I must admit that my Family Foodie has had a more measured response to the CSA.  While I love the variety and the opportunity to try new produce, I have some strong vegetable preferences in the FF (no more chard, I hate squash) that I have to account for…!  Nonetheless, last year, I introduced the FF to quite a few vegetables that we never would have purchased at the market – and found that the boys are big squash fans. But it is true that we’re not as good as we should be about eating everything that we bring home from both the market and our weekly CSA share. However, I have been looking forward to using the recipes I’ve been collecting to make with the produce that I wasn’t quite sure how to cook last summer. After several conversations with everyone, I’ve been given the Family okay to move on, but told that all other decisions are up to me…or as the boys say, “Mom, no one cares about this as much as you do.”. So much for family decision-making…

So once the decision to CSA was made, I was left with the decisions about what size share to select, whether to get both summer and autumn shares, whether to buy eggs or bread or flowers…. So many wonderful choices, but no input forthcoming from the FF. Here are some of the factors I’m currently considering:

  • We are regular farmer’s market attendees, as well as CSA members.
  • We buy bread every week at the market, and have some specific preferences.
  • I’m also developing my baking skills, and make a passable Quick Yeast Bread.
  • We have a small vegetable garden that produces lettuce, and tomatoes, and cucumbers, and peppers…and whatever else we decide to grow.
  • We are irregular farmer’s market egg purchasers – in part because we consume a lot of eggs.
  • Summer produce is favored by everyone, root vegetables featured in the autumn season are not universally enjoyed by all family members.
  • We love flowers in the house, but usually grow enough in our garden to cut and bring indoors.

The CSA that we were members of last year, and that we plan to join this year, Potomac Vegetable Farms, offers three size shares: mini, regular, robust; and two seasons, summer and autumn.  We got the regular summer share last year, and ate most everything most weeks — and did get better at planning ways to use all the produce as the season progressed.  We found that some of the quantities of produce for things we eat regularly was less than our weekly consumption, but that was usually compensated for by our garden or increasing how much we got at the farmer’s market. I found that I missed our weekly pickups when fall came, and very rapidly fell back into our regular produce routine.

So, what to do? Decisions need to be made. Thoughts anyone?


3 Comments to “To CSA Or Not To CSA”

  1. Like you, I love the idea of CSAs. LOVE! And while I think participating in one is something worth trying, they don’t work for our family. We tend to make big batches of food so we can have leftovers for a few nights. This usually means we need a good quantity of a single vegetable. Plus, my husband doesn’t eat summer squashes. Instead, I am just better about going to the market in the growing season.

    If I was you (hey, you asked!) & the CSA model mostly works, I’d get the summer & autumn share sans bread & flowers. I find most root vegetables are *awesome* mashed up with potatoes. In fact, we’re having a shepard’s pie night topped with mashed turnips, celery root & potatoes.

    Good luck!

  2. Thanks for the thoughtful comments! I did ask for feedback, since I hate to make decisions alone…

    I am definitely leaning toward continuing with the CSA model – with 5 of us, variety is good – and the boys and I like summer squash – and the Picky Eater even eats zucchini bread! And I do see bread and flowers as a luxury, rather than a necessity.

    So maybe when the Sprout is a little bigger, you can reconsider the CSA model too!

    Your shepard’s pie sounds divine…I’ll need to try that soon.

  3. Our local CSA has an additional model that is perfect for my 2 person family. The farm has its own farmstand, and also offers trees and wreaths for the winter holiday (we live here in Maine where balsam trees are bountiful). So we purchase a share, but can spend that share (plus a 10% bonus) on anything in the store. Because I’m a batch cooker also, I find being able to buy huge bushel baskets of tomatoes and apples and berries is perfect for me to put up for the long winters. We use the tomato sauce (frozen in 2 cup tubs) all the time; I make jars of applesauce, apple butter, and berry jams to give away for Christmas. And my family just swoons over the wreaths I send every year.

    Besides that, local fresh grown produce that we can pick ourselves is perfect. The farmstand offers eggs, bread, herbs, a few flowers, and just plain homegrown neighborliness and fun.

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