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  • Writer's pictureRobin Ankerich

Sustainable Sunday - CSA – Community Supported Agriculture

Updated: Jun 21, 2020

Because of the pandemic, as farmers markets and restaurants have been shuttered, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) have been in the media spotlight and this reminded me that I’ve been wanting to give my local CSA a try. A CSA is not a new concept, but with the need for new ways for farmers and produce distrusters to get their produce into people’s hands, many have been expanding their framework. With many farmers markets closed and restaurants ordering less produce, many farmers and distributers have partnered with restaurants to create a hybrid CSA model to deliver fresh produce directly to consumers.

What is a CSA?

CSA is an acronym for Community Supported Agriculture. The definition varies slightly depending on the farm and community you live. The basic concept is simple: you purchase a share of the produce in a coming season. By paying up front, you are supporting the farmer directly with the upfront cost of planting harvesting. When harvest season begins, you receive a box of produce from what was gathered fresh each week. Because produce is harvested when ripe, most CSA’s do not allow customers to choose what is included within their weekly share. The customer’s weekly share includes only what produce was ready to be picked. Some models include the option for customers choice; however, these models are often more expensive. The traditional model allows customers to eat what is in season as well as the opportunity to be introduced to produce they haven’t yet experienced.

What is included in a CSA Share?

Your local CSA will function according to what is best locally, so expect unique differences. Many CSAs are produce-based providing fruit, vegetables, and legumes harvested from a farm or network of small farms. In some areas, farms turn their extra produce into products like jellies, pickles, and hot sauces that may be included in a share or be offered as an add-on item. In other communities, farms might partner with local artisans to include things like bread or pasta. Recently, the CSA model that has been altered by some restaurants as a hybrid model, where restaurants facilitate the distribution of products from the farmers and producers they would normally sell to for restaurant use.

Delivery or Pickup?

Depending on the farm and your location there are typically three methods offered for obtaining your weekly share. Many farms offer an in-person pickup option at the farm or a farm stand on set days during the week. Farms that frequent local farmers markets might offer an option to pick up a share on market day. A third option is home delivery, which is typically only offered within a given radius of the farm and often includes a delivery fee.

How to Find a CSA?

The best place to find a CSA in your area is to first visit your local Farmers Market. Many small farms that sell produce at markets also offer CSAs. After you have familiarized yourself with the produce offered by your local farmer, you can make a decision based upon how it fits into your needs, lifestyle and taste. If you don’t have a local farmer’s market, try searching for websites for listing the CSA’s available in your area. I recommend that you also search for organic farms within a 1-2 hour radius of your home, this may also yield results.

Why I Finally Joined a Local CSA?

I was first exposed to CSAs several years ago as an undergrad. One summer, I house-sat for friends who were members of a CSA. They asked that I pick up their share at the local farmers market, in return I was welcome to have whatever I wanted from the produce. I can’t remember everything that was included in the CSA box, but I do remember roasting some of the potatoes and baking zucchini bread with a few of the summer squash. It was an enjoyable experience receiving the produce and not knowing exactly what was going to be included, then the challenge of deciding what to make from it like I was on Chopped with a mystery box.

As a college student and later as an intern, I could not afford to prepay for groceries weeks in advanced. Married and living in North Carolina during graduate school, I found myself surrounded by a huge community of farmers who offered CSAs. Regrettably, the uncertainty of receiving a box of mystery produce deterred us from joining.

A few years ago, we moved to Central Florida. While apartment hunting, we made a note of which towns had local farmers markets. While were in town to choose an apartment, we made sure to pop into a farmer’s market. I was spoiled by the farmer’s market in Carrboro (link) which was located just a one-mile walk from our apartment. Fortunately, the community we settled on is near Winter Park which has a handful of organic farmers who attend regularly.

Over the past two years we intentionally tried more unique produce and made healthier choices. Also, my husband will now eat, and actually enjoys many things he thought he hated. For example, he now love tomatoes! I also taught myself to cook based on seasonality. My goal for 2019 was to try at least 52 new-to-me foods. This wore down our anxiety of buying a mystery vegetable we would not have ordinarily tried.

Then the pandemic hit. I was forced to pre-order my produce online for pickup. After a month of purchasing produce this way, with a $35 minimum, I lost my fear of getting the full value of a CSA box. I calculated that with the weekly CSA would easily be $35 worth of produce. Since won’t be traveling to visit family, go on vacation, I wasn’t concerned about having a week’s worth of produce go to waste because we planned to be out of town.

A few weeks ago, our local farmers market re-opened in a new social-distancing location. I was excited that one of my favorite parts of the week would go back to normal. Unfortunately, it was not the experience I’d longed for. The stands were distanced well, but the customers and workers were not social distancing properly. It was very crowded, with people packed into tents looking at produce. I estimate that half of the people at the farmers market had not bothered wearing mask (please, wear a mask, people!) I don’t know if people had simply stumbled upon the market unprepared while out on their morning walk if it was because the market was outside and they felt safe, but personally, it makes me very anxious to be around so many unmasked people in a small area even if it is outside. I went home that evening and I signed us up for Frog Song Organics’ Summer CSA program (link).

First Week’s Share

I picked up my first share on Saturday, the first week of the Summer CSA. Like many other CSAs, Frog Song uses reusable plastic crates to deliver shares. Each week when picking up the new produce; the crate is exchanged to be reused the following week. In our first box, we received:

· a bunch of carrots

· 3 cucumbers

· Kennenbec potatoes

· mixed basil

· Japanese eggplant

· Lacinato kale

· a cantaloupe

· Shishito peppers

The best news is each Frog Song sends an email with a list of what I might expect in my box, but to anticipate some variation. To accommodate this, I have altered my meal planning strategy. In the past, I planned out the next week’s meals on Friday evening so that I could shop for groceries Saturday morning. Buying produce like this often forced me buy vegetables which were out of season, meaning they were grown in and shipped from California or Mexico. Now, I pick up the CSA box on Saturday morning and go the grocery store for dry goods (grains, beans, oil, etc.) and plan meals based on what was delivered in our box. If you want to read more about meal planning methods, check out last week’s Sustainable Sunday post I wrote about Meal Planning (link).

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