Is a Farm Share a Smart Buy for Your Household?

CSA is the acronym for Community Supported Agriculture. For about $400 to $650 a season (usually June to October), you can purchase a "share" of vegetables and fruits from a local, most likely organic, farm or group of farms. Payment is usually due up front, which is a financial help to small farmers. In return for this payment, you receive a weekly box of fresh produce. In some areas, you can also buy smaller half-shares for less cost. You support local agriculture, you eat farm-fresh produce, and it can be a lot of fun to try new foods.

CSAs are a great concept. However, before you jump in, ask yourself: Would a share be a smart buy for my household?

1. Are You a Fan of the TV Show, Chopped?

Odds are, if you love Chopped, you'll love a CSA box. It's kind of like that. You get a mystery box of ingredients, and you need to make something tasty. It's actually better, because you don't get stupid things like orange gummy worms or vegemite. A CSA box can bring some serious fun back to cooking.

2. Are You Ready to Embrace Your Inner Pioneer?

Food preservationists, rejoice! If you buy a CSA share, you probably can't eat it all in a week, and you'll need to preserve some of your bounty. If your idea of a good time involves canning, dehydrating, blanching, or making freezer meals, a CSA share is ideal. Bonus: It's really nice, in mid-winter, to pull some blanched corn out of the freezer or open a bag of dehydrated berries.

3. What If You Hate Some of the Box Contents?

That is indeed part of the "danger," which is a strong word, but you get my meaning. Personally, I abhor breadfruit, no matter what is done to it, including adding gobs of mayonnaise and calling it "almost like potato salad." I ask around to see if anyone wants my giant breadfruit and if not, well, I throw it into the compost, where it will still do some good. It's fine to ask your share organization what sorts of produce you might expect to receive.

4. Do You Have Time for Food Prep?

Once you pick up that box, it's time to deal. You will need to sort through your produce and determine what needs to be used first. I have had fruits that needed to be eaten right away, some vegetables I could refrigerate, mushrooms that were a tad limp, and others that needed to be washed and stored, like leafy greens. This isn't something you will feel like doing on a Wednesday night. Some nights I just want to eat a hamburger and watch House of Cards. It's best if you can get your box on a weekend, when you have time to sort and clean. Ask about what days your CSA delivers or is available for pick-up.

5. Do You Eat Out a Lot?

If you do, this is not the program for you. Shares are for people who cook and eat at home most of the time.

6. Do You Like to Learn New Recipes?

My CSA helpfully includes recipes, but not all do. You may need to dig through cookbooks or hit the Internet for answers to your questions such as "how to cook a parsnip" or "things to do with kale." Winging it isn't a good use of the money you have spent (witness my Okinawan sweet potato fries — yuck).

7. What Kind of Food Does Your Family Like?

Just because you feel like your family "ought" to be eating more fruits and vegetables doesn't mean that they will. My kid still won't touch a tomato, not even one of the pretty heirloom purple ones. The point is, just because you bought the box, your family may not be thrilled about eating the contents.

If a CSA share is too much of a commitment, consider instead supporting local agriculture by shopping at farmers markets, or patronizing grocery stores that feature local produce.

Have you ever belonged to a CSA? What was the hardest produce to use up?

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