Day 33–Are You Joining a CSA?

CSA Haul the First

Today is 70 degrees and definitely doesn’t feel like February. But here we are in winter, dreaming of all the wonderful fruits and vegetables yet to come in the next few months.

For CSA (community-supported agriculture) organizations, this is the end of the sign up season. We have just renewed our membership in The Produce Box, which is a modified version of a CSA. I love the concept of the CSA, but the pickup idea just wasn’t working for our schedules (or my memory). Wondering about getting your local veggies this spring and summer? Here are some good options.

CSA

CSAs are membership “clubs” typically organized between a farmer and individual members of the public. In the winter, members purchase  “shares” in the farms future bounty and pay anywhere from $400-$500 up-front. This fee gives the farmer funds to purchase seeds, upgrade equipment and get ready for the busy season. Once the farm is producing, each member receives a weekly box or other amount of whatever is harvested that week and this goes on throughout the growing season. The benefits to the farmer are great–he or she knows has money to invest in the farm upfront and has a ready-made customer base (although members don’t pay for the weekly boxes, there are usually opportunities to purchase other items). The benefits to members include a steady supply of fresh fruits and vegetables and having a connection to a community farm. If you want all-organic produce, you can work specifically with an organic farmer. This all works really well unless the weather is bad or there is a blight and farm production is reduced. In that case, it is a good learning experience about the gamble of farming.

Modified CSA

Modified CSAs are membership clubs that work with a select group of farmers, rather than just one and they tend to offer a greater variety of products. Like traditional CSAs, there is usually some up-front or membership fee and after that, they vary widely. Some provide one standard box of produce each week, others give members varying degrees of choice in what is in their box.

Benefits to the farms are the same as a traditional CSA, and include also that the farmer does not have to run a separate business. Benefits to members include a wider variety of produce and a small safety net in case one farmer has trouble producing.

Because modified CSAs are run by a third-party, members should ask a lot of questions, including how much of the weekly or annual payment goes directly to the farmer. Other questions to ask might include:

  • Who are the farmers? Where are their farms located?
  • Can I visit the farms? How can I contact the farmer?
  • How are farmers chosen for participation?
  • How sustainable are the farms in the group? What are their farming protocols?
  • How much of the membership fees/payments are used for overhead (management, marketing)?
  • Can I see the most recent annual financial statement?
  • If all fees are paid in advance, how are these funds managed? Is there a board or is this an individual? Who has authorization to spend the funds and how is the risk of fraud addressed?

I know that last question sounds harsh and it might be hard to ask, but some modified CSAs charge an annual fee of up to $500. That’s a lot of money for a family and if the farmer isn’t in charge of the money, you need to know who is. Just sayin’.

Farmer’s Market

The farmer’s market is still a great way to get the widest variety of locally produced vegetables quickly after harvest. Farmer’s markets are springing up everywhere these days, which is great for consumers. To find a farmer’s market in your area you can go to www.sustainabletable.org and search by zip code.

Benefits to farmers include one-stop delivery of their products and a direct connection with customers. The downside to farmers is that farmer’s markets are a lot of work and their customer base is heavily dependent on the weather that day. Benefits to consumers include the ability to price shop among vendors, ask questions to the farmers themselves (or their family members), and see the amazing variety of seasonal products available in your area.

Farmer’s market caveat: make sure the market where you shop requires vendors to a) grow the food themselves and b) farm within 100 miles or less of your market. This prevents commercial food vendors from selling you the same veggies they are delivering to the supermarket, which often come from another state or country.

Grow Yer Own

Ok, this probably should have been first on the list. Growing your own vegetables or fruits is an incredibly fulfilling task. From my experience, I can say that walking out to your own backyard and picking vegetables for dinner is tremendously satisfying. You can’t get any fresher or more local than that! With a sunny patch and a little know-how, you can produce wonderful results for your family.

Gardening in your yard does have a few requirements: sun, consistent water and patience. My yard lacks adequate sun and once the mosquitoes turn out in force, it’s really hard to make myself water every other night, which is what we have to do when the weather turns hot. So, raising veggies has not really worked for me (more on that in another post this week!), but I do have plans…

The only downside to growing your own vegetables is that if you aren’t successful, you pay for the seeds/plants and still end up buying vegetables elsewhere. That’s where I am and why we joined the flexible CSA.

No matter what your resources, there are options for fresh vegetables coming soon! How will YOU get your veggies this year?

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