My CSA Experience: Farm-Fresh Veggies All Summer (and Possibly Winter)

by Thursday Bram on 16 December 2010 6 comments

This year I joined the Gorman Farm CSA, which is located in my area. CSAs (community-supported agriculture) allow individuals and families to buy a share in a farm's crop for a season or a year. You pay a set amount at the beginning of the year and, during the growing and harvest seasons, you receive a share of the produce each week. The details can differ from farm to farm, of course: Some CSAs ask for part of your payment in the form of volunteer hours, others offer foods beyond produce (such as eggs, cheese, or honey), and so on.

I paid $550 for a full share at the Gorman Farm CSA, which is meant to provide enough food to feed a family of four. Based on the amount of food we received, it could have fed a family of four vegetarians with very little added. We received a full load of vegetables every week for twenty weeks, breaking the price down to $27.50 per week. Considering that most weeks I spend about $20 on produce when I'm shopping at the market, the price wasn't too bad. We did not receive fruit as a part of our share, so I did wind up spending a little more at the market — but it balanced out. Because of the sheer quantity of the vegetables we received, I cut down on the meat and even the dairy I bought regularly, making a lot more salads for meals. I still kept the monthly budget for food under $200 between the CSA and some careful shopping at the market.

I also preserved a lot of produce over the summer; between my garden and the CSA, I was able to can thirty pounds of tomatoes for the winter. There are also some CSAs that keep food coming during the winter months. LocalHarvest offers listings of many of the CSAs out there, at least in the US. Here are some lessons I learned in the process.

New Vegetables

I don't know nearly as much about cooking vegetables as I thought I did. I routinely found items in my weekly share that I had no idea what to do with and would have to search around for a recipe. When in doubt, many vegetables do well broiled with a little olive oil, but I did enjoy the adventure of finding new meals. Some I'm repeating on a regular basis and some I will never make again, but that's how these things go.

Gardening with a CSA Share

Gardening and buying a CSA share may be overkill. I tend to grow produce that we go through in some quantity, like tomatoes and peppers, but there was a lot of overlap between my garden and the CSA. Between canning and dehydrating, I was able to preserve the excess without a problem — but there was a good deal of work in there that I hadn't initially planned for.

Food You Don't Want

There will always be food in your CSA share that you won't care for. In my case, it's eggplant — which Gorman Farms included in the CSA share for about ten weeks. They were kind enough to let me swap out all that eggplant for other vegetables, but many CSAs don't allow for such trades. It's worthwhile to have a friend you can share the bounty with, especially if you can find a friend who likes some of those vegetables you don't enjoy.

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Guest's picture

I just finished a summer of our local farm's "medium" share (about $17/week prepaid and supposedly enough for two people each week). I wasn't all that impressed - the veggies I usually wanted seemed to go to the full-share people and we mediums got the leftovers. Some weeks were pretty sparse - I managed to eat the share's contents all by myself with no problem. Our farm's setup had no swap out, so I actually ended up sneaking carrots into the organic section of a local grocery store because I had the things coming out my ears. Never again. I also don't spend anywhere near $17/week on produce for my husband and myself (and we eat a lot of salads and veggies), so that was kind of painful, too. I love the local support angle, but I think next year, I'll just go to the local farmers' market and buy what I actually want instead.

Linsey Knerl's picture

Great article, Thursday! We do our own gardening, and there are no CSA's where we live, but it would be a wonderful resource to have. This year, with the birth of my son, we just didn't keep up our garden from the weeds, and we ended up with NOTHING to can. Just to be able to process some items for the winter would make it worth it for us. (And I would love to have all that organic stuff on hand to freeze as homemade baby food.)

Guest's picture
Eva

My CSA actually allows you to specifiy what vegetables you don't enjoy and they won't put any in. Of course, that means you have to know what you don't like. But I've found I like more things than I thought I would...it really is fun to figure out what something is (celeriac? fennel?) and how to cook it.

Guest's picture

A CSA is like grocery shopping on autopilot. I don't have to go to the grocery store every few days for fresh veggies. I pick up my veggies once a week and they stay fresh for at least that long (sometimes even two) because they were picked the day I got them.
I dehydrate, pickle, or preserve whatever I can't use during the week.

While mine doesn't save me much money (it's more or less a wash), it does encourage me to eat more healthily than I might otherwise. It's much easier to try new veggies when the choice is made for you.

Guest's picture
Reba

There are some really affordable CSAs. growingpower.org in the Midwest is one of the cheapest but is available year round and can go week by week. Cheap doesn't mean low quality.

Guest's picture

Thank you for sharing your CSA experience. I'm a vegetarian who joined a CSA this year and love it. For two people we get a large share every other week, and have never had a problem with the food we get or using it up. I live in South Florida, so I can get local food year-round, and it's great hearing other stories.