What is a CSA?
CSA Basics. Explained.
Besides being the BEST way to buy food, both in terms of price and freshness, purchasing a CSA GUARENTEES you’re getting what’s local, fresh AND in season! CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, which is basically a share in a farm's seasonal output. You can find CSA's for produce, meat, dairy even CSF’s: community support fisheries! For simplicity sake, this blog will soley focus on produce CSA's and how they operate but we'll get to the rest in another episode!
So how does a CSA work?
Each farm will have its own specific policies regarding how their particular CSA works, but by and large, have many commonalities. Midwest produce CSA’s are typically from June-October (some a little longer and others a little shorter). Larger farms or those with greenhouses or freezing/storage capacities may offer CSA’s year round because they have increased volumes and the ability to spread their harvest out over longer periods of time.
Generally, all money is paid UP FRONT prior to the growing season. This enables farms with adequate operating capital needed to carry out the season. Some farms offer early bird discounts for folks who pay in full or other incentives to get people to sign up. For instance, a farm might offer $100 off if registered by January, $75 off by February, $50 off by March and lessen the discount closer to the actual start date later in the year.
While not all farms have the bandwidth to offer discounts, others may have payment plans or flexible commitment options. It’s common for farms to require a down payment at the signing of your CSA but allow monthly payments or offer seasonal or monthly CSA’s so the individual doesn’t have to receive the service for the full growing season. A particular distinction of a CSA is that you pay a lump sum (typically) and no more payments are required, you simply just get your food, or it comes to you!
If committments, lump sums, and payment plans about produce, freaked you out, you're not alone! CSA's are definitely are a different dicotomy than going weekly (bi-weekly or daily) to the grocery store as most American's have done their whole lives. The "down payment" allows farms to know the size of their customer base, have the funds available to grow the right amount which helps them project better to avoid waste.
Generally, produce CSA’s are weekly boxes of fresh goodies. Some farms will offer delivery options (free or with a nominal fee), while others require pick up at the farmers market or another central meeting location such as a school or church. And there's a good chunk of CSA's who'll even have some seasonal fruit like cataloup, watermelon or stawberries...or even fresh herbs!
Each box is packed with exactly what’s fresh and in season at the time it gets to you. In many instances, the produce is literally picked from the field within 48hrs of touching your hands. Can't get much fresher or more nutrient dense than that!