Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Start eating locally- Join a CSA this spring!

If you're new to this whole "Eat Local" movement, and you're not sure where to start or how to get into local eating, it can be overwhelming! Once you start making more informed choices about what you eat, it's easy to feel overwhelmed and get into an all-or-nothing type of mentality. I am here to say a) don't be so hard on yourself! and b) start somewhere simple!
These friendly folks are the Dyers! They just started a garlic CSA!
CSA Shares (Community Supported Agriculture) are an important part of the Eat Local movement as well as a increasingly popular way to support a local farmer and invest in the food you are eating.

The basic model that CSAs usually follow is that you pay for a subscription or a share of the CSA. This fee is either paid up front in a lump sum, or could be paid in a more flexible arrangement. In exchange for your payment, you get a weekly box of vegetables that are packed up for you and that you pick up at one of several location choices.

There are many new exciting CSA options in addition to this traditional model. In this post, we'll cover the basic "steps" of finding and choosing your CSA!

Things to consider in your CSA search 

Type of CSA- In the Ypsilanti/Ann Arbor area alone, we have some really interesting CSA options, including Fresh produce, frozen seasonal produce, prepared locally-sourced meals, garlic, home-brewing grains, staple foods, meat, dairy and more! If you're a reader from outside our little zone here,  there are several good resources for finding CSAs near you:
Google "Community Supported Agriculture + my city

Growing Practices- Most farms fall under one of several designations: Conventional growers, Certified Organic growers, or organic in practices/chemical & pesticide free growers. Conventional growers use some level of pesticides, fertilizers, etc., although they could be trying to minimize these types of practices. Certified Organic growers have gone through that certification process and obviously use organic practices when growing their produce. Farms that are organic in practice/bio-dynamic/chemical & pesticide free are most likely conscientious of the benefits of growing food organically, but either cannot or have not chosen to pursue the organic certification. It's good to have a conversation with the growers about their practices, no matter which category they fall into, to make sure you're down with their practices.

Location of Farm/pick-up-
Most CSAs offer several pick-up locations, so even if they are not located in your city, they might very well deliver to your local farmers market. Most times, you'll be responsible for picking up your share each week, so make sure you are choosing a CSA with a share pick-up location you can and will get to.

Size of CSA share- There are typically several share options available; Full Share and Half Share being the most standard. Generally, a Full Share will feed 3-4 people, and a Half Share will feed 1-2 people. There might be other options, so again, it's good to ask! If you're single, or a couple, think about going in together and splitting a Full Share with a friend, family member or neighbor. After all, it is Community supported agriculture :)

Length of season- There can be a lot of variety in the length of season your CSA offers- 18-22 weeks is pretty common, and most CSAs I've seen run May or June through September or October. Some CSAs, depending on what the products for sale are, might run through the Fall and Winter as well, so check it out!

Price- Again, lots of variety in pricing too. Since shares run for a variety of weeks through different seasons, the best way to compare is through price per week. You also want to think about what you can afford to pay,  because as mentioned earlier, you might need to pay the season's fee in one lump sum. When you average the cost out though, CSAs are overall a great value! You can get great quality, locally-grown produce for a very affordable price; some farms will take SNAP/Food Stamps/EBT so if you're receiving those benefits, don't count yourself out!

Keep in Mind:

Ask questions!
  • If you haven't noticed yet, a general theme (one that applies to the entire Buy Local concept) is ASK! If you have a question, ask. If you have a special accommodation, ask. If you aren't sure of the specifications, ask. One of the huge benefits of purchasing a CSA subscription is that you get to build a relationship with the Farm and the farmers that grow your food. Use that relationship to really own the knowledge of where your food comes from, how it's grown, etc.
Do your research
  • You're essentially investing in this farm for the season. I would encourage you to take this seriously, like  other investments you might make. As I say frequently, each time you buy something, you are voting. So make sure the CSA you're "voting" for is the one that is the best fit for you, your family, and your food needs!

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