Sign up for a CSA

Posted: Friday, April 24, 2015 12:00 am
By Tessa Edick
For Columbia-Greene Media


Forget who your are wearing, who’s your farmer? I ask everyone. If you don’t have one, you are missing out on good food direct from the source. It’s not a new idea and it just makes sense to return to our agrarian society and local foodways.


By offering your food dollars up in “seed” money to help farmers buy seed, plant and grow your food, you not only do yourself a solid, you lift up local economies too.


Joining a CSA will change your life. “Know your farmer, know your food” is a concept about building relationships and offers benefits beyond taste. By sourcing food locally every time we eat, we decentralize the food system — making our food safer, healthier and a better value too, which means you look and feel better too.


Every time you make a conscious choice about what you eat and opt out of processed food, you benefit. You will have energy, lose weight, dissolve cravings, sleep better and your skin will radiate. When did we swap nutrition for convenience? Is it really less expensive or more convenient to be sick? Empty food calories clearly cost us more than any organic or locally sourced food.


And if you needed convincing, here’s a bonus: Agriculture builds communities too. CSA is not a buzzword, it’s a way of life. Think about how meaningful it is to make real changes in the world by simply eating better.


CSA, Community-Supported or Community-Shared Agriculture, is also known as “subscription farming.” You buy direct from a local farmer just like you would buy any subscription, but instead of receiving a magazine each week, you receive a “share” of fresh, locally grown or raised vegetables or fruit. Some farmers also offer CSA memberships for farm-fresh eggs, poultry, meat and dairy. Be sure to ask your farmer what’s available.


Sourcing produce from a farmer down the road is rewarding on many levels. You buy vegetables and fruit picked that very morning — bursting with flavor and nutrition — and skip the going to the store chore. A CSA becomes your very own shopping cart down the road and when you “subscribe” to a CSA, the farm becomes your supermarket. Brilliant!


CSA is a new name for an ancient practice, when people knew where their food came from, ate in harmony with the seasons, enjoyed healthy diets and shared the risk with the farmer (weather!) for the benefit of protecting the community’s food source.


The number of CSAs in the United States in 1990 was estimated at 50; today, there are several thousand to choose from nationally and most of them are listed online. The government does not track CSAs, so there is no official count of how many CSAs there are in the United States officially, but has the most comprehensive directory of CSA farms, with over 4,000 listed. Locate them by entering your zip code in any of the sites listed here.


A CSA typically runs from late spring through Thanksgiving. I’m a CSA member at two local farms — one for produce at (less than $40/week for organic vegetables and fruit that feeds four people each week and includes fresh pasta, local bread and Hudson Valley cheese) and it fundraises for the local school district where I pick it up. I also have a CSA for grass-fed organic meat. I signed up for 10 pounds per month for $130 (a mix of beef, pork, lamb, chicken in prime, braising and ground cuts) and debits my card monthly. (I can cancel either at any time or put the share on pause if I am away!) I conveniently pick up both CSA shares on days specified and at locations I choose. It’s genius; it alleviates the hassle of parking and lines in the supermarket and my family is so excited, especially come dinnertime!


The CSA model takes the arrangement beyond the usual commercial transaction with the notion of shared risk. In most CSAs, members pay up front for the whole season and the farmers do their best to provide an abundant box of produce each week. If harvest is not abundant, members are not typically reimbursed and a “we’re in this together” feeling emerges. On some farms the idea of shared risk is stronger than others and CSA members may be asked to sign a policy form indicating that they agree to accept, without complaint, whatever the farm can produce.


CSAs have had so much success recently, farmers have begun to introduce variations like “mix and match” or “market-style” CSA. Rather than making up a standard box of vegetables for every member each week, the members load their own boxes with some degree of personal choice. The farmer lays out the week’s vegetables and encourages members to take a prescribed amount of what’s available, leaving behind just what their families do not eat. Some CSA farmers then donate this extra produce to a food bank. In other CSAs, the members have a wider choice to fill their box with whatever appeals to them, within certain limitations so everyone has a fair share.


Most CSA farmers prefer that members pay for the season up front, but some farmers will accept monthly payments. Some CSAs also require that members work a small number of hours on the farm during the growing season. By making a financial commitment to a farm, people become connected. It is a great way to eat clean, fresh, local food on a budget and to simultaneously support local agriculture. It’s an investment in your health and economic development in your community. Plus, you meet your farmer!


Make sure you understand the rules of your CSA. Farms differ in their policy regarding what happens with your box if you don’t pick it up (vacation or forgetfulness), so make sure you ask how these situations are dealt with in advance of pick up days.


If you are not accustomed to eating seasonally, you may find that it takes a while to make a transition from eating whatever is at the grocery store (everything you might want) to whatever is in your CSA basket (seasonal offerings). It may surprise you to find that tomatoes do not ripen until August in your area. You should expect the season to start off lighter than it finishes. In most areas, the first crops will be salad greens, peas and garlic scapes and by the end of the season, the boxes should be much heavier, with things like watermelon, beets, potatoes, tomatoes, broccoli and squash. Many farms provide a list of what produce to expect when and a Thanksgiving offer come fall. All of it harvests pure gratitude.


Buy locally grown food. Ask questions and meet your farmer! Rediscover the benefits of buying food in your own community with a CSA; it is fresher than anything in the supermarket, which means better taste and more nutrition so you are less hungry. It also supports the local economy and buying directly from family farms helps them stay in business. Get involved: Stand up for your farming community and food choices. Your body will thank you and the farmer will too. FarmOn!


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