The Benefits of Joining a CSA

April 25, 2013

Photo by casebeer, via Flickr

This post was inspired by Jennifer Bauer Steuck, a PERA retiree who enjoys the produce and sense of community she receives from participating in her local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture).

She writes:

“I retired from PERA two years ago last May.  I had spent all of my adult life in public education but after 34 years it was time to retire.  One of my pastimes had always been gardening.  However, prior to my retirement I had moved, and my new yard is small.  It has some space for flowers and shrubs and a few pots for herbs. The trees provide welcome shade in our hot summers but clearly they reduce the areas which would provide enough sun for a vegetable garden.  I was at a loss.  I briefly investigated the idea of getting a plot in a community garden not too far away. It turned out to be not as convenient (not within walking distance) as I had hoped and it took a lot of time.

I was pleased to discover Farmyard CSA.  CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture.  The community I began my work with gardens in backyards, front yards, side yards and even a church yard.  We grow the food right in the urban area of Denver which is about as local as you can get.  And it’s all organic.  People can buy shares of the harvest.  They share in the success and sometimes failures of each week.  Failures due to hail, freezing, or insects infestations can occur at any time throughout the growing season.  People can pay through time spent working or money spent.

I pay for mine through work.  I found my niche working on Monday afternoons helping to get the harvest ready for distribution later that same day. Most of the harvesting occurs over the weekend or on Monday mornings so it is all fresh.  I’ve done a variety of things -- weighing herbs and tomatoes, counting squash, sorting peppers.  Whatever happens to be in season is what I work with.  It seems last year I spent virtually every week bundling up the kale, lettuce, or chard.  Washing the leaves, counting out them into bunches, carefully cutting off the ends and rubber banding them together before placing them upright in coolers.  It starts out slow in the spring but before long the gardens are exploding with produce.

So as part of my retirement each week, I walk a few blocks away from home, am involved with a wonderful community of local farmers, and get enough fresh produce for the week.  You can’t help feeling happy around all that goodness.”

Community supported agriculture is a way for farmers to share the risk and reward of their growing season with the community. At the beginning of the season, a group pays for a portion of the harvest – this amount doesn’t guarantee a certain amount, the size is dependent upon the success of the crops.

Those that participate in a CSA usually receive weekly allotments of the crops – vegetables, herbs, fruit, and possibly meat and dairy as well. Some CSA’s accept physical labor in lieu of cash contributions.

So what are the benefits of forgoing the grocery store and sticking with locally grown food items?

Financial:
If a large portion of your grocery bill consists of produce (especially organic produce), there’s a good chance that you’ll save by participating in a CSA. The cost is variable – depending on the size of the share you purchase and sometimes your income – so you can tailor it to your budget.

In addition, the time it takes to go from farm to table is generally far less in a CSA than with food you buy from the grocery store, which means your produce should taste fresher.

Variety:
If you’re a pro in the kitchen, or you simply like trying new foods, a CSA will provide the variety you are looking for. You’ll receive what’s in season at the time, resulting in a wide variety throughout the months that you are a member.

Community:
For those who want to create a sense of community in the city (or anywhere else for that matter), CSA’s help forge relationships based on a common goal and appreciation of locally grown products. If you have kids, this also gives them the opportunity to see a working farm and potentially the animals that live there.

Buying Local:
If you’re a cheerleader for small business and love to buy local, this is the perfect way to do it – you reap the benefits of fresh produce, and local farmers are able to share some of the risks and rewards of their crops. It’s a purchase you can actually feel good about.

Obviously, this isn’t a one-size-fits-all type of purchase. Here are a few cons of joining a CSA, just for a little perspective:

  • Not everyone lives close to a CSA and most require weekly pick up of produce.
  • It’s not always the best option financially for smaller households.
  • Most CSA’s require that you pay your subscription price in full before participating.
  • Some require volunteer hours.
  • If you tend to always buy the same items, the chances of you getting those items every week through a CSA are slim.
  • There’s no guarantee when it comes to crop yields – some seasons are better than others.

Ready to find a CSA near you? Click here.

Are you a CSA member? Share your experience!