Friday, May 27, 2011

CSA (Community Supported Agriculture)

When I first heard the acronym CSA, I thought someone was talking about accounting. But it's actually something much more interesting - Community Supported Agriculture. Basically, it's a group that works with local farms to offer you fresh produce, and sometimes meat and dairy items as well.

CSAs are something a friend of mine in Seattle introduced me to, and then I really got interested in when my sisters started an email conversation about them in the Bay Area. I'd heard a lot of great things about the freshness of the produce, but what they didn't like was not knowing what they were getting every time, and consistently getting uncommon produce that they didn't know how to cook, or didn't necessarily like.

So when I looked around at options that served our little beach town, I was very excited to find a company that offered you the ability to choose what you wanted every week by filling out the order form online. Perfect. I get to change my mind every week, and I get to do it online. It didn't take much to convince my cooking hobbyist husband that we wanted fresh produce every week, so we signed up for the trial of 4 weeks. That was 4 months ago.

So here are the pluses and minuses that we've experienced:

- great quality, super fresh produce every week from local small farms. The website tells what farms all the food comes from, so you get to know the quality and consistency of certain farms.

- there's a little email newsletter every week that tells what the farmers are up to and how the weather has affected the food

- choosing your food every week is fantastic. We get to change it up when we want (the hubby likes to try out new veggies for dinner), and still keep the things we really love (I get apples for lunch every week).

 - the customer service is great. They respond over email or over the phone, and really want people to be happy with what they're getting. We had an issue with the packers short-changing us with a tiny cauliflower, where normally they would give us two and we only got one. I emailed our local guy at the company and he gave us a credit for next week, no problem. Awesome.

- the food tastes absolutely amazing. We're pretty spoiled with getting lots of fresh produce in California in the chain supermarkets, but when you're getting stuff that's just been picked at its ripest point and hasn't been shipped way in advance, you get to experience an intensity of flavor you didn't know was there (unless you grew it yourself, and even then sometimes it's not that good!). Plus, I'm betting we're getting more nutrients out of them.

- add-ons. Our CSA offers seasonal a la carte add-ons, like local honey and coffee. They even have eggs, grass-fed beef, and a farm that will raise a chicken just for you.

- the consistency of having fresh produce every week has really made us cook fresh produce almost every night, and forced us to cook more often. In a good way! We just aren't good at consistently going to the grocery store (problem with being two adults with no kids).

- we pick up the food every week at a local person's house. This company has a number of places to pick up from, so it's probably not a problem to find something close, but you do have to pick it up unless you want to pay an extra $5 for delivery. Pick up is a 6-hour window on a certain day (each area has a different day). So you need to make sure you get there before 9pm, or they donate your food.

- the cost is more than we'd normally pay at a normal grocery store. For 6 credits we're paying $18 a week. The 6 credits gets you a variety of things depending on what the produce is and how the season has gone for it, like 1 credit could be a pound of yellow potatoes, or it could be 4 apples. We've experimented with what we like best and what is a better deal (the 2 credits for 1 pound of brussels sprouts was a bit much, but it was more difficult to harvest them, so it cost more).

- you have to let them know when you're going to be out of town to cancel your order for that week. But that's not a big deal. Email and it's done.

- there's a little more dirt to wash off than from the grocery store. Darn. And none of that waxy stuff. Double-darn.

- they may not have what you want. This is local and seasonal. So there are certain things that they may not offer. But the grocery store may still have them, or you just have to wait until their season is back. We haven't had a problem choosing something good each week.

So obviously the pros out-weigh the cons. We've been extremely happy with our experience so far. It may not be for everyone - those with kids may not have the budget or be able to pick it up as easily. You may prefer to hit the local farmer's market and choose things yourself. But we love supporting the local farmers (especially since a lot of them are very close by), and when you bite into something like a fresh blueberry, and your whole mouth explodes with sweetness, there's really no going back to the grocery store mushy blueberries that don't have much flavor.

*Note: for those of you in the Bay Area interested in our particular CSA, I'm happy to send you an email with the info - just ask. But I wanted this to be about CSAs in general, not our specific company.*

1 comment:

  1. Good list of pros and cons. I agree with everything (except getting to pick your own selection, since our CSA is different).

    We've been members of Eatwell Farm's CSA ( for maybe two years now. We pick up a box of produce, and two dozen eggs, every other week. The cost is comparable to what we'd find at high-end organic farmers' markets -- which is to say, how it stacks up against your existing grocery bill would depend very much on what kinds of groceries you're currently buying. Eatwell has a regularly updated blog with info about the farm, and you can also order other products they make: flour milled from their wheat, lavender-calendula salve or rosemary sea salt made from their herbs. Every few months they do events where members can come to the farm, though we have yet to make the drive up to Dixon (it's up by Davis).

    Eatwell is actually my second try at being a CSA member. The first time, with an LA-region CSA, it was not for me. Even though at that time I used a CSA like yours, where you can choose what you want, I was living alone and was a busy student, and couldn't keep up with that much produce. This time around, there are two of us cooking, and thanks to several years of intensive vegetarian recipe-experimenting, we can cope with weeks upon weeks of kale or eggplant or sweet potatoes... most of the time. If we're both super-busy, we end up composting a lot of the produce, which always makes me sad. But if we're both on top of things in the kitchen, we can go through our entire box of produce before the two weeks are up. But in spite of the off-weeks I still love our CSA and it's one of the things I would miss most if we ever moved out of the area!