CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture.
The short of it: you buy a “share” of a local farm and in return get a box of fresh, local produce every week during their growing season, or every other week depending on which type you buy into.
I’m a bi-weekly member of Laughing Stalk Farmstead‘s CSA. Laughing Stalk Farmstead is a small, organic, super rad two-person-run farm located here in southeast Missouri. The farmers are so excited about what they do, and that enthusiasm translates into incredible produce and a wealth of knowledge about what they grow. They email weekly newsletters that include recipes, veggie info, growing practices, and pictures of the farm. They encourage questions and farm visits, which is incredibly important. If you want to know where your food comes from, how it’s grown, or what in the world to do with a patty-pan squash…get to know a farmer!
Being a member of a CSA has other benefits, too. For me, I love the variety of produce that comes in each box and the spontaneity of it…you don’t know what will be in the box until you open it up; it’s like opening up a present each time! Also, because it’s the kind of system that you don’t choose what’s in your box–you get what’s in season and ready for harvest–it’s a real adventure in seasonal eating. It pushes you try to new things, new cooking techniques, and has really gotten me into learning more about preserving (freezing, canning, fermenting) as a way to not let any of the produce go to waste.
One other important aspect of a CSA is the idea of shared benefit and risk, you reap the rewards of a plentiful harvest by having a full box (or extra produce when times allow), but you also share the risk of a slim harvest. For instance, if a particular crop doesn’t “take” or there’s a drought, you may not receive a full box, and you aren’t reimbursed. Does that sound unfair? No, and here’s why: growing food is not a guarantee; farming is a risky business. Every time farmers plant something they take a risk…how will the weather behave this season, will there be flooding or a drought, will a particular crop fail, will there be an influx of pests or plant disease? Farmer’s invest a lot of money upfront to buy the seeds, work the soil, purchase farm equipment and supplies, and put in a lot (and boy do I mean a lot) of hours laboring. And they do all this before getting paid, since typically you don’t get paid until you have something to sell. So, a CSA allows the farmer to have income up front to purchase the many expenses and support themselves (although usually not enough) for their labor. But all that said, the benefits of joining a CSA far outweigh the risks. Just knowing that the food I feed my family is produced mere miles from where I live, comes from people I know, and is harvested at it’s peak (rather than gas-ripened in a warehouse…read Tomatoland!), is worth the potential risk of a slim harvest.
Quality over quantity, care over commercialism, and inspiration over indifference.
For more information about CSAs, or to find one in your area, check out LocalHarvest. Or, feel free to contact me if you have any questions…I’m no expert, but can share my experiences and humble opinions.