CSA stands for community supported agriculture. The idea is you give farmers money at the beginning of the season. Then they provide you with fresh veggies and possibly fruits at set intervals during the season. They end up with a predictable income, you end up with fresh locally grown veggies (often sustainably farmed if not organic). Generally you don’t get to choose the veggies you get, but some CSAs allow for choice.
The local harvest website can help you find a CSA near you.
Some thoughts about CSAs:
A CSA is not for the faint of heart.
If you can’t handle bugs or dirt, don’t do a CSA unless you live in Southern California or some other major metropolitan area that is really good at washing veggies. Salad greens are the worst for bugs and grit. Some websites recommend using saltwater to get rid of the bugs, but that can wilt your veggies. For greens, rinse your veggies off briefly. Then fill the sink with luke-warm water and soak the greens. If things are really bad, clean out the sink and do it again. Rinse as needed as you transfer veggies to a salad spinner.
If you don’t like greens, find someone to give them to (easier than you think!) or don’t join a CSA that has winter deliveries. Greens! Glorious Greens! can make some greens bearable, but …
Get a salad spinner! Also: if you can’t eat your greens fast enough, the salad spinner in the fridge is a great place to keep them. They stay fresh longer and are easier to grab for things like sandwiches.
The Victory Garden Cookbook is essential, as well as amazing and awesome.
Is a CSA worth it?:
CSAs are often less expensive than buying veggies at the grocery store. Often even if they’re not certified organic, they use organic practices (the ones around here think organic certification is a government conspiracy but also have serious organic credentials in terms of knowledge and sustainable farming outreach).
CSAs can provide amazingly fresh and sweet produce that make you look at some vegetables with newfound admiration. Lettuce for example. A freshly picked salad is joyous.
CSAs help you to eat more veggies and to try veggies you’ve never tried before.
You may end up getting veggies you can’t stand. Or used to mildly dislike but after several months can no longer stand (hello turnip greens). If you don’t find someone to pawn them off on, you may feel guilty. Some CSAs will donate your unwanted veggies to local shelters, which is a good thing.
You may not be able to process all of your veggies before they get unhappy. Don’t be afraid to process and freeze them. Still, some weeks you may not have the time to process them. For these busy weeks we recommend taking them to work or daycare or giving them to a neighbor. Especially if they’re greens.
So money wise, they’re totally worth it if you always buy organic and if they’re improving your health by encouraging you to eat veggies. If you don’t use the veggies in time, they can end up being more expensive than hitting the farmer’s market or Whole foods occasionally. Even if you don’t care about organic, the flavor from fresh local produce can make this a phenomenal option, even if it is more expensive than conventional veggies shipped in from South America.
Have you tried a CSA? Could you handle random veggies every week? What are your favorite and least favorite veggies?