CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. It is a great way for people who believe in real food to support a farm, try new things, and grow a healthy family. But it is not the only way to do these things.
So, what’s the difference between supporting a farmer through a CSA versus at a farmers market? Why would a person consider signing up for a csa instead of these other options?
These are great questions. And everyone who considers joining a CSA should be asking them.
The reality is that the CSA model is not a good fit for everyone, and you shouldn’t feel bad if it’s not the best fit for you. Our CSA customers who come back year after year are a ‘certain kind’ of customer. Not a ‘better’ customer – just a certain kind – the kind that matches the unique format of the CSA model.
It’s best to go into the decision with your eyes wide open, and see if your expectations match the experience that a CSA will give you.
To help you decide if CSA is right for you and before you sign up for this seasonal commitment to a specific farm, you should ask yourself a few questions.
IS CSA RIGHT FOR ME?
Take this short quiz. It will only take a few minutes of your time. CSA is a big commitment on your part and we want to be sure its right decision for you. Based on your answers here, it should be pretty obvious.
- IS THE RELATIONSHIP TO THE FARMER ACTUALLY IMPORTANT TO YOU?
CSA’s focus on the farmer-customer relationship as much as the end product. From our surveys, we know our customers find it important to see their farmers faces each week and have a deeper understand of what it takes to bring their food from the field to the table.
There’s something rewarding about knowing you are doing your part to support a local farm. CSA is a great addition to your weekly routine that allows you to access great-tasting food AND to know the farmers whose livelihood relies on it.
Joining a CSA means that you are committed to staying with a specific farm through an entire season, come thick and thin. Inherent in this arrangement is the understanding that there is risk in farming. Mother Nature is the real boss, and she may send scorching sun, pouring rain or bug plagues, and a certain crop may not appear in your share that season. On the flip side, there may be a bumper crop of tomatoes or cucumbers, and you’ll be swimming in the summer bounty.
A CSA member’s motivation for supporting the farm is just as much about having the back of the farmer as it is about getting the full financial value of the share.
Make sure you read that last sentence again. It’s kinda huge.
And this relationship goes both ways. When you join a CSA, we (your farmers) will work hard to grow your food but also to cultivate a connection with you. We want to know your names, get to know your family, find out what your favorite vegetables are and how you like to prepare them. We try to add value to your life, by teaching you about how we grow your food and then help you with how to prepare it.
So, where do you fall?
- Yes, I care about knowing my farmer.
- No, it doesn’t really matter to me.
- DO YOU VALUE HAVING FRESH VEGETABLES THAT ACTUALLY TASTE GOOD?
Tasteless tomatoes in the winter. Ugh. Carrots with the flavor or cardboard. No thanks. Salad mix that turns to slime after a day in your fridge. Yuck.
If you are already considering joining a CSA, then you know this frustration well.
Taste and freshness matter. Because you know that putting together a terrific meal in your kitchen isn’t just about your skill, it starts with the ingredients.
One of the most important qualities of our CSA “masters” (folks who stick with the CSA year after year) is that they love food. Real food. Food that tastes like it should, because it’s grown in quality soil by loving hands who know how to grow food even in our challenging climate.
In fact, CSA’s often create food snobs, because customers finally experience how a tomato should really taste, and they cannot go back to the grocery store version.
If you love cooking and you value taste, then you will LOVE being in a CSA. Because CSA’s are all about providing high-quality vegetables that make your food something to celebrate. You’re paying for that taste experience when you join a CSA.
If you’re just looking for a basic tomato at the cheapest price so you can make an iceberg salad — this is not your gig.
How much does taste matter to you?
- Yes, 100% taste matters to me.
- No, maybe not quite as much as the dollar value does.
- ARE YOU WILLING TO TRY NEW FOODS? REALLY?
A CSA will push you to try new foods and explore variety in your kitchen.
You will discover new veggies you love, and you’ll also discover you may not love them all (and that’s ok).
Part of the CSA experience means getting exposed to a wide variety of vegetables. We put veggies in your share that you may have never seen before, and we help you learn how to eat them.
We know that if left to your own devices, you would never purposely put a kohlrabi in your csa bag. Or would you? If you would, then you would definitely click with the CSA. But with a little nudge, you may just discover that kohlrabi is your new favorite food.
It’s all part of the goal in CSA of developing food literacy and teaching our ourselves, and our kids, how to eat seasonally again. If you want to grow in the kitchen, you have to push yourself to try new ingredients.
Our CSA masters often comment how the CSA makes them eat more vegetables and try new things. It challenges them, but in a good way, that benefits them in the end.
So, are you willing to try new veggies?
- Yes, I’m definitely into it.
- No, I’m not so sure this is my thing
- DO YOU NEED CONTROL IN YOUR MENU PLANNING?
CSA members have to learn to be flexible with their weekly menu. We give you notice one to two days before delivery about what will be in your share, but being willing to swap out ingredients and make things work in the kitchen makes the experience much smoother.
Some people love this kind of spontaneity—others get stressed out by it.
Think hard on this: Are you willing to give up some control over what veggies you get each week? Or do you need to live by your plan?
If you really want to stick to your plan, you might be better off buying exactly what you want from the farmers market or a grocery store. The most common reason members leave the CSA is that they didn’t get enough of the things they wanted, and too much of what they didn’t want.
CSA works best for customers who see their kitchen as a creative space, and our veggies as the paint for their canvas. They can handle the spontaneity required and are willing to experiment with new ingredients to make old meal templates come alive in new ways.
How flexible do you feel when it comes to meal planning?
- Yes, I can go with the flow
- No, I need to stick to my plan
- ARE YOU WILLING TO WORK AT EATING THE CSA WAY?
CSA takes some time to see results. It can sometimes take a season or two to really master making the most of your CSA share every week. That means you may waste some food early on, as you go through your learning curve. This is a really hard reality for some to face.
There will be weeks when you have the best intentions to be a super-chef and maximize your CSA cooking experience… and then real life sets in, and you find yourself simply eating the broccoli raw. Believe it or not, this still happens to the farmers too.
It can sometimes feel like you’re “failing” in your original goal to change the way you eat.
Realize that if this is your goal, it takes time to learn the skill sets. Set realistic goals the first year, and work your way into it. Also realize that this is a journey to kitchen mastery. If you are committed to learning how, you can do it! And we are here to help you along the way.
So, are you committed to “work” at this CSA experience?
- Yes, I am in for the whole CSA journey.
- No, I’m not quite sure this is my style.
- ARE YOU LOOKING FOR A DEAL?
While there is a considerable cost savings in joining the CSA over farmers market prices, people who fully embrace the CSA model don’t look for their membership to be a “deal” or a bargain. And they don’t compare the CSA experience to the grocery store price, because it isn’t really a fair comparison. Not on flavor, freshness or relationship to your food.
It is absolutely understandable to ask, “How much does it cost?” And to then weigh the pros and cons.
Supporting a CSA however, is not just about doing a cost analysis of each vegetable you receive in your share and comparing it to what you’d pay elsewhere.
Our vegetables have added value because they connect you to how and where your food was grown. Our vegetables showcase your journey with food. They are the starring attraction in your quest to master your kitchen space and prepare a delicious meal to rival any restaurant fare — a meal you can be proud of. This is not something any grocery store can give you.
Are you looking for the best deal or for a new experience?
- I want the CSA experience.
- I really prefer to get the best deal possible.
SO, HOW DID YOU DO?
DID YOU PASS THE QUIZ?
Remember, CSA is just one model out there for getting fresh farm-direct food to your table.
For those who value the story, the journey, and the farmer relationship, it can be a great opportunity to change the way you eat forever. But there’s no shame in passing on CSA and instead visiting the weekly farmers market. And in fact it may be a better fit for your style or needs. We do both, so we just want you to do what is right for you.
As in all things, expectations determine how you experience the product. To set yourself up for CSA success, make sure your expectations align with the philosophy of CSA before you take the plunge!
If you think you’re ready, here are your next steps:
- Head over to our CSA Sign Up Page
- Fill out the form and pay online or print and mail in your form.
- You’ll get a confirmation email from us!
I hope this helped answer some of your questions. You’ll find more information about the logistics of the CSA in our FAQ’s on the CSA page