There are a lot of reasons to join a CSA and buy a share in a farm's harvest. Some people join for the amazingly fresh food. Some people enjoy the connection to a specific farm and farmer. Others just want to support their local food system and are looking for a simple one-stop way to do so. Find a reason that just might push you off the fence and into the wonderful world of CSA!
Once you've decided to join, check out 10 Questions to Ask When Joining a CSA to find the right program for you.
1. Ultra-fresh, locally grown produce
This is by far the number one reason for participating in CSA. Farms give their members the very best of their produce, and many even offer flowers, honey, eggs, and more. Unique varieties are often given to CSA emembers before others, as well as test types of produce that the farmers is thinking of growing for a larger market. In short, CSA members get the best of the best that a farm has to offer.
2. Learn about new vegetables and fruits
You never know what might show up in your box. Well, at most farms you have a fairly good idea because they keep you informed. Still, CSAs have a way of getting people to try new things simply because – wham – there it is in your kitchen!
3. Serious understanding of the seasons and what grows in your area
There is nothing like unpacking a weekly CSA box to get in touch with the seasons – and the weather of each particular season – in your area. Many CSA boxes come with newsletters, which often explain field conditions, why the farm is harvesting something early or late (or, sadly, not at all). It's a connection to the land and the seasons that is rare for urban and suburban dwellers, and immensely satisfying.
4. Relationship with the farmers
CSA membership involves some relationship to a farmers or farmers that one often didn't have before. There are few farmers left in the U.S., but they are vital for each and every one of us. Knowing a person and their specific situation can be a real eye-opener, especially if your "relationship to a farmer" has been limited to that of singing "Old MacDonald."
5. Access to special buys
Farms often offer seasonal deals to their CSA members. Boxes of tomatoes to can, a neighbor farmer's grass-fed beef, a chance to get flats of strawberries at the end of the season so they can clear the field.
6. Invitations to members-only u-picks at the farm
Many farms hold members-only pick-your-own events for high-demand produce in peak season. In California, strawberry and tomato u-pick events are common. Other parts of the country have apple picking days. Sometimes CSA members are even invited to end-of-the-season post-harvest "gleaning" events where you can pick over a harvested field for any produce left behind. These can be amazing deals, but the real fun is being out in the field and seeing a farm from a farmer's perspective.
7. Special events at the farm
U-pick events, barbecues, pot lucks, farm tours, and more. Different farms handle public events differently, from full-on harvest festivals with bands and dancing to more modest farm tours, but these special events are a great bonus prize of CSA membership.
8. Saves money (if you cook!)
Assuming you use the produce that comes in the box, most CSA members will save money over a similar amount of quality produce bought at the store or from a farmers market.
9. Saves time
What you give up in choice, you definitely gain in convenience. Picking up a box simply takes less time that going to the farmers market or choosing, bagging, and paying for produce at the store.
10. Definite local eating
With a CSA membership you know the plot of land on which the food was grown, which is pretty cool. If eating local and supporting the local food system is important to you, joining a CSA is an easy way to do it.