Should You Buy Your Produce Through a CSA?

August 18, 2015

I’m a fan of buying fresh, local produce whenever possible. Not only am I supporting my local economy (and small businesses), I am decreasing my food miles. Food miles are the distance your food travels from where it is grown in order to end up on your plate. Food miles (and the pollution associated with the travel) decrease substantially when you buy produce grown in Colorado rather than halfway around the world. In addition, much of the local produce you find at farmers markets is organic, which means that chemicals haven’t been washed into our Colorado rivers and lakes in order to grow the produce.

In Colorado, the growing season is shorter due to the colder climate, so it is often challenging to find local produce in the fall and winter months. However, in the summertime, there are many options. The past few years I have made an effort to stop at farmers markets to purchase the bulk of my produce. This year I stepped it up and joined a CSA (community supported agriculture). Although I am only a few weeks into the CSA, I have some thoughts to share.

What is a CSA exactly?

First, you might be wondering what a CSA is and how it works. In a CSA, you pay up-front at the beginning of the season, when the farmers need capital the most. I paid for my CSA back in January, which meant that I received a discount for buying in early. The CSA I joined is a 26 week season, which means that starting in mid-June, and continuing for 26 weeks, I receive fresh, local, organic produce every Wednesday. In a CSA, you are essentially buying a share of the farm’s production for the season. So there is an element of risk/reward – if the growing season does not go well, you will receive less. But, if there is a bumper crop, you will get more. So far, I am buried in vegetables and have given some away to family and friends. The CSA shares are delivered to pick-up locations and I go get my share every Wednesday after work.

Making the CSA work for me

One of the things that I was most concerned about is not being able to choose what I get each week. Instead, I receive a box filled with whatever type of vegetables are being harvested that week. In the first few weeks, I have received an abundance of greens – spinach, kale, lettuce, swiss chard, etc. There have also been some vegetables that I do not even recognize – google has been helpful! Have you ever seen or tried kohlrabi? I certainly had not.

But, this process has forced me to get creative and think outside the box. It is easy for me to get stuck in a food rut where I eat the same few things every week. In this case, I am committed to eating the vegetables that I receive and I have not bought any additional produce in the store since the CSA started. That kohlrabi was turned into a delicious soup that I never would have tried to make otherwise. I turned my parsnips into baked fries (also delicious). And I have had a lot of great salads.

What's the verdict?

So is it worth it? For me, it is. I eat a lot of produce year-round, so this has been a good investment for me. I bought my share back in January, so I received a discount and also got a free yogurt share with my vegetables every week. It averages out to about $23 per week. Of course I had to part with the entire cost up-front in January, so if you are trying to stick to a lean weekly budget, then this may not be for you. According to Colorado CSAs, there are over 100 CSAs to choose from in Colorado. They all have different options and pricing structures, so you can find one that fits best for your needs.

Have you ever tried a CSA? What did you think of it?