What is a CSA? Confessions of a CSA Virgin

A woman holding up a watermelon to her face.

When I was a child in Buffalo, NY, my Mom always took us to local farms to pick apples, strawberries, and whatever else was in season. We had our own salad garden in the backyard. Lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, basil, and parsley were picked just before dinner every night. Our neighbors had sour cherry trees and when the time was right, I would climb the tree with my friends and we would pick enough to make pies and jams. That was our normal.

As I grew older and had my own household and busy life, I found myself buying produce in the supermarket that never matched the freshness of a backyard garden. With my busy schedule, there was simply not enough time to grow my own produce, even though I wanted to.That direct connection to my food was gone.I no longer climbed the cherry trees or gathered salad from the garden before dinner with my own hands.And I missed the freshness!

I started wondering, what if there was a way to partner with someone who could help me get great fresh organic produce with minimal effort on my part? It turns out there is! It’s called a CSA (Community Sponsored Agriculture).

What is a CSA?

This concept has been around for over 25 years. Here’s how it works: the farmer sells shares of his crops directly to the public. This gives him capital up front, which helps with cash flow for the farm. The consumer gets weekly boxes of farm fresh produce that changes every week depending on what is ready for harvest.

When I first became aware of CSA’s it sounded like a great idea. I really kept meaning to do it, but missed the sign up deadlines (usually March or April). Left to my own devices, I might have remained a CSA virgin for a few seasons longer. But luckily, fate intervened. I actually bid on a 1/2 share at a charity auction. The CSA donated the 1/2 share, the charity got the money, and I went home with a season’s worth of produce. That’s a win-win.

There is a small risk buying a CSA share. If it’s a bad growing season you won’t be reimbursed. CSA’s in general plant and harvest a huge variety of crops, so if one or two fail, it’s not likely to have a huge affect on you.

Keep in mind that not all CSA’s operate as strictly certified organic, but don’t overlook these options. Being certified is a costly process. Many farms operate organically but are not certified. Just do your homework.

Some CSA farms even have pick your own options. Herbs, flowers, cherry tomatoes, and snap peas are some examples. Each farm will have different pick-your-own crops.

So this year, I own a 1/2 of a regular share of produce with a nearby CSA. It is always GORGEOUS. Napa cabbage, asparagus, strawberries, turnips, kale, whatever is in season. There is always a beautiful selection of offerings that change each week.

There might be things you have never seen before that you will need to learn how to prepare. (How exactly do you prepare kohlrabi?) I think that part is awesome. CSA’s help you to eat local and seasonal, which is the most natural way to eat. The food is picked just before your arrival. Talk about Farm Fresh!

I am no longer a CSA virgin. One load of amazing veggies was all it took to awaken my childhood love of all things fresh. I routinely have a pair of rubber boots in my car in case I have a “U pick it” opportunity. My trunk has a cold bag to pick up my produce. And I always make sure I get to the farm right on time. This week: swiss chard, snap peas, strawberries, napa cabbage, turnips, and scallions. Yum!

No matter where you live, simply go to www.localharvest.org/csa to find a CSA near you.