How to Pick the Right CSA for Your Needs

iStock_000014514671SmallOver the last three years, my family has slowly moved away from buying most of our food at the grocery store to buying most of it directly from the farmer through CSAs.  The food is fresh and tasty and often more reasonably priced than organic foods at large chain stores such as Whole Foods.

The community supported agriculture (CSA) movement is a great way to buy local, sustainable (often organic) foods at a reasonable price.  However, there are often so many CSAs to choose from, deciding on the best farm for you and your family’s needs can be overwhelming.

We’ve used a variety of CSAs, and the difference between farms is often surprising.  If you’d like to join a CSA this year, make sure to ask both yourself and the farmer questions to get the right fit for your family.

How to Find a CSA

The best way to find a CSA is to go to localharvest.org and enter your city and state.  How many CSAs are available to you depends on where you live.  Some people who live in remote areas may only have one or two CSAs available.  We live in the suburbs of a large city, so we have over 60 CSAs to choose from.

Determine What You’re Looking For

What are you looking for in your CSA?  Are you looking primarily for fresh vegetables?  Would you like a box that contains fruits and vegetables?  Or would you like a meat CSA?  All of these types of CSAs are available.  You just need to decide what you’d like.

The next step is to determine if you’d like a CSA that delivers to your home (some do), or if you’d like one where you go pick up the produce weekly.

Check the pickup locations careful.  Some require that you may have to drive further than you would like.  We used to get a CSA where we picked it up at the local farmer’s market every week.  Then I switched to a CSA that delivers to my home, and I’m sold on the convenience.

How Much Variety Are You Looking For?

Some CSAs offer a surprising amount of variety.  One CSA we used included at least 12 to 15 different vegetables a week in our family size CSA box.  Another one instead offered large quantities of only 5 to 8 different vegetables in a week.

While variety is nice, sometimes coming up with ways to use all of the different vegetables in a week can be difficult.  In that case, a box with less variety is easier because you can make larger recipes and freeze some for use later in the fall and winter.

How Clean Is the Produce?

One farm offers CSA vegetables that are very clean and similar to what you would buy in the grocery store.  Another CSA that we no longer use literally took the vegetables right from the ground and boxed them.  I guess they do this thinking the veggies will stay fresher, but I found it to be a major inconvenience.  Once they harvested during a rain storm, and the vegetables were so mud caked that my drain clogged because of all the mud.

Definitely ask the farmer what state the vegetables will arrive in when you receive them.

If you’re considering getting a CSA this year, take the time to think about what you’re looking for and to also call the farmer directly to ask questions.

Risks of the CSA

CSAs do pose some risks.  You’ll need to pay upfront for your vegetables.  If you order a family size box to feed 3 to 5, you’ll likely pay $500 to $800 upfront for 16 to 24 weeks of produce boxes.  You pay the money upfront to help the farmer pay for seeds and growing his crops.

You also take a risk with the farmer.  If there is a flood or drought, many of the crops may be lost.  Our first year as CSA customers, our area suffered a horrible drought.  While our farmer was able to keeping giving us a CSA box every week, albeit smaller than normal, other farms were unable to keep their CSA obligations.  This is a real risk you take, though the farmer tries to minimize the effects on the consumer.

Have you used a CSA before?  If not, would you consider it?


Comments

How to Pick the Right CSA for Your Needs — 3 Comments

  1. This is an interesting way to get local produce. I didn’t know it even existed, thanks for sharing. Not sure if there is one in our area but will definitely need to look into it. We are always looking for ways to buy local, organic food to help support local growers

  2. I love the idea of using CSAs but we don’t eat enough variety of fruits and veggies to justify it at this point. We grow lots of our own peppers and herbs during the summer so that helps offset our cost. I think it’s great you work with a CSA who delivers – so convenient!

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