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Joining a CSA: Everything You Need to Know

CSA, or community-supported agriculture, has become a popular alternative way to buy fresh, seasonal food directly from your local farmers.

If you aren’t satisfied with the cost or quality of the produce at your local grocery store or can’t make it to a farmers market, joining a CSA program is a way to ensure that you have the fruits and vegetables you need to prepare healthy meals.

Typically, farmers will sell “shares” to the public, which may include fruits, vegetables or other types of farm products like milk or eggs. Consumers can either pick up or opt to have their shares delivered directly to their door and receive a weekly box or bag of seasonal produce.

“I’ve been participating in an individual CSA with my farmer in upstate NY for the past three years,” said Anne Maxfield, entrepreneur and founder of The Accidental Locavore. “It’s been a wonderful experience. Besides getting the freshest possible produce from a farm where sustainable farming is the standard, I’ve been exposed to all sorts of vegetables (and some fruit) that probably wouldn’t have made it into my shopping cart at the supermarket.”

The best way to find the right CSA for you is to get to know your local farmers. If you have a farmers market in your city or town, start by asking around for recommendations. If you aren’t sure where to start, on LocalHarvest.org you can find a map of CSA farms near you. Typically there is an annual membership to join and monthly dues, which range from approximately $25 – $100.

“There are a lot of benefits to joining a CSA,” said Zimbo Paul, owner and operator of Vintage Quest Acres in Knoxville, TN. “A store gets food from many places mostly far away, but a CSA will be strictly local. The issue of local vs. not local impacts nutrition, the environment, carbon footprint and quality control.”

So how do these benefits impact you if you’re thinking of joining a CSA?

Nutrition

“As a society, people have been trained to value appearance over nutrition,” said Paul. “Most corporate factory farms have depleted their soil to such a point that they produce food that is nutritionally bankrupt. An organic or chemical-free CSA typically will use composted leaves, hay or manure as a fertilizer which contains everything needed to make nutritious food.”

Another reason to shop for local produce is food safety. “Just look at the recalls in the news,” said Janelle Vane, co-owner of Wilson’s Farm Market in Bel Air, MD. “Have you ever heard of a recall from your local farm? Buying local produce gives you the best nutrition, because it is much fresher than produce that has been shipped into the country or across the country.”

Economy

While there is a cost to join a CSA, many consumers find it to be a worthwhile investment because they are receiving a higher quality product. “My members tell me that by having all this fruit and produce in their home, they feel compelled to use it, which means they eat out less and stay home to cook,” said Vane.

In addition to the shares they sign up for, Vane’s CSA members have access to a complimentary herb and sunflower garden, as well as use of the farm for the four hours that the farm is open for CSA pick-up.

“Receiving the perks on top of what members pay for their produce is a great package,” said Vane.

Paul agrees that joining a CSA is a good way to support your local economy. “Buying anything local, especially food, helps keep money and jobs in your area,” he said.

Sense of Community

Joining a local CSA will not only allow you the opportunity to support local farmers economically, but it gives you the opportunity to unite with other members of the community.

Many CSAs hold farmer meet-and-greets or member pot luck events so that everyone can get to know one another. Other programs require members to commit volunteer hours either working on the farm or at the pick-up location to encourage participation.

“Some people, especially those with children, [join a CSA] for the experience,” said Vane. “They can see where everything grows, ask us questions, spend time walking about the farm. We allow members to bring their dogs, a picnic, make friends and just enjoy themselves.”

August 19th, 2011

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