I have already written about my love for farmers markets, and I have been chatting quite enthusiastically with friends about upcoming Saturday excursions to our local market. What I have been hearing, however, is that many people just don’t have the time to go on Saturdays or during-the-workday-hours of the weekday markets. For many of my friends (and I am certain they are not alone), even those who value the farmers market, just cannot squeeze them into their schedule because of other obligations. Even I, at times throughout the season find myself so overbooked that getting to the farmers market is so unlikely that it elevates to guilty pleasure status. So what is the alternative for people with work, school, children’s sporting events, and anything else that may coincide with their market’s operating hours but still want farm-fresh produce and goods?
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is an excellent option. But what is CSA? Early models of CSA date back to Japanese farms and biodynamic farms in Germany and Switzerland in the 1960s. Today, a farmer will typically offer a certain number of shares to the public for purchase each season. These shares provide the funds needed to operate the farm, and in return, members receive a weekly share of the season’s harvest.
What I feel makes CSA so awesome, aside from the great produce, is that it creates a direct relationship between farmers and consumers. Members have the benefit of knowing where their produce is coming from, and the farm’s growing practices. Farmers benefit from having cash flow early in the growing season, and it gives them the opportunity to produce quality food, sustainably. Of course, because we are talking about crops, there is some measure of risk involved, but that is part of the community experience of CSA; farmers and members are jointly invested in the success of the season's harvest.
Every CSA farm is a little bit different, so it can take some research to find the one that fits you and your household best. Some things you’ll want to research and compare:
- The harvest share: How big are they and what are they made of? (Love Farm Organics LLC has a nice example of a farm’s page that explains possible shares. They also have a link to their newsletter which lists past shares.)
- Distribution days and locations: How will you get your bounty? Where will you pick it up and when?
- Length of season: I have seen some memberships that buy you 18 weeks, some that buy you 28 weeks. Research this carefully.
- Available options: Not all CSAs are created equal. Some allow vacation weeks. Some have other food items (dairy, meat, jam, honey, etc.) available. Some allow substitutions. Some give you discounts at their farmers market stalls or farm stores.
- Cost: Full or half shares. Berry shares. Some CSA farms offer scholarships to cover a portion of the share cost. Are you on SNAP? There are many CSAs that work with SNAP.
Whether you decide to go the CSA route, try to squeeze the farmers market into your schedule, some combination of both, or neither, I wish you a happy and bountiful season!
References & Resources:
View Larger Map