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  • CSAs: Are they worth it?

    Meredith’s post at Like Merchant Ships about using up their box of CSA produce reminded me that I’ve been meaning to look into CSAs myself.

    “CSA” stands for “Community Supported Agriculture.” In essence, it’s a way of buying produce directly from farmers. You pay a set amount, and receive a box of fresh produce in return. LocalHarvest.org has a more detailed explanation.

    They also have the best CSA locator that I could find. (It’s right on their homepage.) There are a fair number of choices for the LA area, but they all require that you pick up your delivery at a farmer’s market. I’ve found one that might work for me, so I’m thinking about it. It would be $25 per week, and all of the produce is certified organic. I’m going to visit the delivery site and if I like what I see, I’ll probably sign up. I like the idea of supporting a local farm, getting super fresh produce, and having the chance to try new fruit and vegetables.

    If you’re a CSA member, what’s your experience been?

    Comments

    1. We've done a farm share the last 4-5 years, and it's been worth it, but we have a pretty sweet setup.

      We split the share, which now runs $450/summer, so our cost is really like $200-225. We usually get a slight discount for signing up early, too.

      A half share is enough food for two adults, and now for us plus a toddler. A full share would be a waste, I think, especially in the beginning when it's largely salad greens. (We live in WI, so our seasonality may be different than yours in LA!)

      The trick is that our health insurance will pay up to $200/year for a "good health bonus." This can be smoking cessation, a gym membership, or a CSA. My husband gets into the gym at a reduced rate through my employer, so we apply the $200 to the farm share, and it ends up being $25 for the summer.

      Even shopping the farmers' market, there's no way I could get a summer's worth of organic, local produce for $2/week. We definitely think it's worth it, but I think we're a little bit of a unique situation.

      That said, I think it's probably worth it for $15-20/week. The produce is great and I love supporting a local organic farmer.

    2. We belonged to one for several months last year. Our downfall was the inability to get our kids to eat kale and the like, and to keep the food fresh long enough to make something of it around sports and other evening activities.

      I'd like to again, to supplement what I'm already growing.

    3. MetaMommy says:

      I don't have experience with CSAs, but I have experience with farmers' markets in the Los Angeles area.

      My 2 cents:
      –We are incredibly lucky to have such long seasons compared to so many other places. I have taken it for granted. And the variety that the varied local climates can produce is such fun.
      –Do you get to know what produce you're getting in advance? If not, it might throw a kink into your meal plans.
      –If you're worried about spoilage, you should properly store food as soon as you get it. This is crucial when it's warm out since food is much more susceptible to spoilage in our warm summer months.
      –If you're still worried about spoilage, a friend turned me on to these green bags. As long as there's no moisture in the bag, I think it does extend the life for some foods.
      –Lastly, you might find a bug in your food. I have. But there's nothing wrong with that. If nothing else, you're assured of having organic produce. Personally, I wonder why organic food from grocery stores don't have bugs.

    4. I'm strongly considering joining a CSA.

      Our family doesn't eat enough produce, and I think if we know we're getting a big batch of veggies each week, we'll be more likely to eat them and incorporate them into our meals.

    5. We are in our 4th year of doing CSA's…We love it. That being said it takes some getting use to. You don't know what you are getting upfront so you have to do your meal planning around the day that you get your pickups. You also have to be willing to be creative about what you get in the weekly share. The nice thing about the internet is that you can find recipes for anything or prep tips. Also, most vegetables freeze well…if you get in the weekly habit of freezing what you don't eat, then you won't be feel so wasteful when you don't have time to eat everything and you will have local veggies when they aren't in season. I also don't feel guilty about the few things we don't like…we just give them to friends, neighbors, and coworkers. The best part of the CSA's is the freshness…for example, we just got local strawberries and they don't compare to what you can by in the grocery store. I also think CSA's force you to vary the veggies that you eat…which I think is a good thing. A lot of farms also offer frut shares which the kids always love. Lastly, CSA's vary in their offerings…some are more traditional vegetables, some are more heirloom, organic vs. conventional, etc. The most convenient CSA might not be the best CSA for you. Enjoy!

    6. I would be ALL OVER this if we had a little more wiggle room in our grocery budget. I actually checked into it here but ours is $33 per week and they want full payment up front. Not something that we can do right now, unfortunately. I guess that I am in a unique situation too in that I have a baby- I make most of his food and he doesn't complain about eating beet greens or kale just yet, so I could use anything that they threw at me! On the other hand, it's not hard to freeze the greens and add them to smoothies or other foods, so that might be an option. Good luck with your decision.

    7. Barbara says:

      We've participated in a CSA for about 4 years. I think it is worth the cost, esp since I like to buy organic anyway and therefore pay a premium for vegetables at the local grocery stores. Our grocery bills actually decrease in the summer because I am spending less time in the store picking up fresh vegetables.
      You do have to make a commitment to preparing and eating everything you get. I recommend buying a smaller share to start just so you don't waste anything. We've tried so many vegetables that I would not have thought to try before. I follow a lot of cooking blogs and I save recipes all year for vegetables I expect to receive in the spring/summer/fall. Our CSA lets you donate your box to a food bank if you go away for summer vacation. Overall its a great thing to do!

    8. Chief Family Officer says:

      Thanks, everyone! I really appreciate the insight into your experiences. I guess the best thing for me to do is visit the particular CSA I'm considering at the farmer's market where I'd be picking up my box and finding out exactly what goes into them, how much produce it is, etc. I love all of your suggestions about things I wouldn't have thought about, like bookmarking recipes for expected produce and freezing greens. And EJW, I'm going to look into our health insurance too, thanks for the tip!

    9. One other thing to consider; many CSAs will offer different packages, such as small, medium or large, kid friendly, etc.

    10. This year we purchased a half share of a CSA and I am loving it!! I promised myself before I put in the money that I would figure out a way to use everything…and I've done okay. Not stellar, a few things have gone to waste (there's only so many green onions I can use and I didn't get around to drying my mint before it went bad.) But overall, I've loved having the fresh salad mix and the opportunity to try things I've never had before (this week's culinary adventure – kale). If you do it, I'd definitely recommend starting with a half share (if possible) or splitting a full share with another family. It will just help ease you into it. But I definitely think we'll be doing it again next year!

    11. MetaMommy says:

      There's a new-ish book called The Flavor Bible, and this person makes a point of how useful it can be when presented with an unfamiliar CSA bounty. It can help you come up with ideas for what flavors work with other flavors (e.g., what goes with kale?)

      Speaking of kale, I found what looks like a good recipe that I hope to try soon: Tuscan Kale

    12. We did achieve a cost savings by using a CSA and in addition to that got many intangible benefits: we ate much more produce than we would otherwise have done, we tried new veggies, and we were eating local produce which is more environmentally sound and beneficial to our local economy.

      Our CSA did not do different size shares, so we split our share with two other families. This mitigated the cost and allowed us to take turns with the more challenging vegetables ("ANOTHER bunch of brussel sprouts?!?"). It also meant we got to take turns picking up the vegetables, saving us time.

      It does require flexibility and time to learn about and prep different kinds of vegetables, but we enjoyed the chance to slow down and live in better harmony with the earth and the seasons.

      We loved it but are not joining again this summer because we will be traveling a lot so it doesn't make sense.

      I hope you have a great time with your CSA!

    13. Melissa says:

      I am going to be a negative comment here. We joined a CSA (here in WA) 2 years ago. Absolutely loved it. Got a bunch of new veggies, were forced to be creative and we learned to like some new things.

      Then last year rolled around. We bought our subscription up front (which averaged out to be $25 a week). Well, the farmer decided to branch out and try a bunch of different things, and spent less time with her CSA. She wasn't a very good organizer, and we ended up with a horrible experience. When we walked around the farmer's market and calculated what we could buy with $25 a week, it always ended up more than was in our CSA box/bag.

      This year, we get $25 out of the bank each week and shop for fruit and veggies as they are available. We made a deal to spend the entire $25 each week, and to branch out and get some things we might not get.

      We also started a garden last year, which produced a LOT, and this year we planted even more.

      Just be prepared for lots and lots of greens (kale, chard, etc) and lots of squash.

    14. I think it is great that you are considering a CSA. I did this a few years ago when I was pregnant with my second child and I wasn't able to "keep up" with the produce. When all you want is chocolate ice-cream to stave off those cravings the last thing you want to do is try and Google a new Kolrabi-slaw recipe. Also, my son is a VERY picky eater and doesn't touch veggies at all, and my husband isn't a veggie eater either…so we ended up giving our $$ away. (I actually just posted an article on my blog about saving your $$ in your freezer that offers some suggestions about how you can preserve a lot of food stuffs that would otherwise go in the trash.) Anyway, if you are an adventurous eater, have time to find recipes and prepare foods before they go bad, this is a great cost-saving way to obtain organic veggies if you can't have a garden.
      Oh, one good thing about my CSA is that they also did supplements, like eggs, dried fruits, nuts, grains, baked goods, and fresh fruits. This really helps. We might give it a try again when the kids are older.

      Good luck!
      Abbie

    15. Jennifer says:

      I love my CSA. In Los Angeles I've done Tierra Miguel and I current order from South Central Farm. I loved Tierra Miguel. They had a great variety of veggies, fruits and even honey. It was a little pricey and I had to pay for the season up front. I liked it though. South Central Farm is great because you can pay for a week at a time and it's only $15. It's much more veggie focused and the winter months were mostly greens, but now there's a lot more variety. This website shows what's in a box this week: http://sites.google.com/site/scfcsa/Home/what-is-in-a-box-this-week

    16. Chief Family Officer says:

      Thanks for the additional info, everyone!

      @MetaMommy – I'll have to check that book out, thanks!

      @Jennifer – Awesome!!! That's the one I was looking at, so THANK YOU for that info, it was very helpful!

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