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May 2, 2011 11:42 AM

Please tell me if you have experience with a CSA?

I have heard banter about this on here but don't know much about people's satisfactions - there is a new one starting in my area and I am hoping to learn more from here to decide if it is a right decision to join. thx!

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  1. It depends on the particular CSA and on your lifestyle.

    I joined a CSA in New York years ago, enticed by their promise of home delivery. Unfortunately, they seemed to be winding down their half-hearted operation. Each week, I got a small grocery bag filled with odds and ends -- a few carrots, a turnip, a tiny bundle of spinach. I generally couldn't even make a side dish our of any one item because of the small quantities.

    My experience with a Chicago-area CSA has been fantastic. They deliver huge boxes of high-quality vegetables. The price per pound is a fraction of what I'd pay at the grocery store or farmer's market. The only trick is keeping up with the supply. I have to be disciplined about cooking vegetables 5-6 nights a week in order to avoid waste.

    If your CSA is just starting, there may be a risk of low yields for the first year. Is that o.k. with you? Are they asking members to contribute start-up labor? If so, does that work for you? (My sister in law is finding that CSA volunteer work has been a good way to meet people.)

    If your CSA does come through with a big harvest, will you be able to handle it? Are you already in the habit of cooking at home? Will you enjoy the challenge of dealing with a surprise assortment of vegetables each week, or will it frustrate you?

    All things to consider before joining.

    2 Replies
    1. re: CathleenH

      thanks Cathleen! - yes, they are requesting a 14hour commitment during the season - not terrible I don't think, but not sure of what that really entails - also there are two pick-up days - not home delivery - I thought about the prospect of splitting the share with a friend so that the product and cost would be shared (cost is $500 + $35 to join) - is that appropriate?

      1. re: smilingal

        Shares at my CSA are something like $550-$650 depending on whether you sign up early or not. This is for a 20 week share with a pick up site. Given how much they send, it's actually a good deal.

        I paid a lot less for the first CSA, and I guess I got what I paid for.

    2. We belonged to one 2 summers ago. I was not satisfied. The return on investment was very poor. We were promised enough for 4 people and rarely received enough for 2. I know "stuff" happens, but it was a perfectly normal growing season and the harvest shouldn't have been that poor week in and week out (in volume, variety and quality). We found out too late that the farmers everyone raved about had left the farm to start their own CSA operation elsewhere. The new people were not up to the job and/or they didn't get access to the farm until planting season was well underway (we never got a straight story on what the problem was). They couldn't even keep the wasps cleared out of the childrens garden.

      If I were to consider a CSA again, I'd do a lot more research and I'd be very hesitant to join a brand new one. Unless you can afford to potentially waste the money, you'd do better shopping farmer's markets. With a CSA you're (sometimes literally) putting all your eggs in one basket.

      ETA: Our agreement was $750 for an approximate 4-person share, no labor commitment, but many of the crops were pick your own.

      5 Replies
      1. re: electricfish

        thanks EF! - I am thinking that I will let this year pass and see how their first year goes and reconsider it next year.

        1. re: electricfish

          $750!?! Highway robbery!

          Ours around here (KY) run $400-$450 and guarantee produce from mid-April to mid-October and often have several more weeks depending on weather -- it's normal for them to go well into November with winter squash and greens. I once picked up a friend's CSA in early August and came home with four grocery bags stuffed full of produce. It was unbelievable. I know for a fact that they'd paid less than $400 for their whole season. I agree that you need to do your research. I wouldn't go with a first-timer unless I knew them personally.

          1. re: LauraGrace

            "highway robbbery"

            whoa nellie. op is in ny, you are in kentucky. not only is climate/growing season a factor in the price of a csa, but also the local economy and what the csa offers. areas with more expensive farmland/more urban areas will tend to run a bit pricier-- it's just the farmer's overhead, no "robbery" or cheating of customers whatsoever. some csas are very basic garden veg and others will include fruit and specialty produce that is very expensive in the market. csa members will pay more for microgreens, tree fruit, berries and heritage vegetables. they will pay more for certified organic produce than non. other csas can give out buckets of potatoes and zucchini, with less variety, for less $. the key is to find a csa that offers a good match/quantity with what the customer wants, but i wouldn't assume the farmer is trying to rip people off.

            where i do agree w LauraGrace's post is that i wouldn't go with a first timer, either, unless it was someone i knew personally and wanted to support. the first few seasons of a csa can be very rocky and result in poor return on investment and/or poor variety of produce-- it's a tough learning curve for the farmer. if i was the op i'd ask around locally and get personal recs for established csas-- and i would be more concerned personally with quality and variety rather than price. the nice thing about established csa farmers is that you can often arrange for extras like a 50# case of pickling cucumbers or a few jars of the farm's homemade jam or fresh cheese, or whatever, and it's no big deal.

            1. re: soupkitten

              Hey, sorry to have caused alarm, soupkitten! I should have put a winkey-face after "highway robbery" -- I do think $750 is pretty outrageous, even taking other factors into account, but it's just an expression for "expensive" where I grew up, without a necessary implication of ill will.


              1. re: LauraGrace

                oh, cool then, thanks for that response, we're much more on the same page than i thought! of course price is a factor, but it's hard to tell what's too expensive when we don't know what the op would be getting. there are produce csas in my area that also offer milk, cheese, and eggs and meat. . . the csa members pay more but get a great value on these higher priced foods, too.

                the op should look at the offerings of a csa before deciding what a good value is-- i'd personally *way* rather pay more for a csa that offered asparagus and berries than less for one with bushels of kohlrabi and gigantic watermelons that i may not be able to use. again, an established csa will often have month-to-month lists of what was available in other seasons, so the op could compare the value of the box to what the same produce would cost in the local market. a first season csa will be guessing a bit, they will have some misfires, they may do their best to pull off a new veg crop that winds up being a disappointment. only the op can decide what is a good value for her/his area's market price, and what is an acceptable risk.

                now that i'm looking back i can see the op is considering paying around $500 for full share, split between 2 households, and the $750 was another poster, who didn't like their csa! doh! that's my mistake, but i think $250 is a much more acceptable risk for a few-4-5 months of great produce, for the op-- my opinion only! :)

        2. I've had good experiences with established CSA's. My area has a number of different ones. They vary in price, length of season, pick-up spots, etc.

          I did a bit of research and went with one that gives you a few days heads up as to what to expect. I liked having a little time to think about recipes and gather other ingredients. My CSA was also easy to work with if you went out of town or if there were items you didn't care for. You could also increase your order on occasion - nice if company was coming.

          I stopped subscribing when work made it very difficult to get to the other side of town for the pick-up.

          1. I adored our CSA when we did it (UWS in Manhattan). But it just turned out to be way way too much food for 2 people. And that farmer didn't do 1/2 shares, which I would gladly have jumped at.

            Several people I know also did "trials" of a CSA before they decided. You should ask if this farmer is willing to do that. My friends did 1-week periods the growing season prior, just to see how it worked and how much food they got and all that. If you are really interested in this farmer, ask if they'll let you sign up for just a 1-week (or whatever) trial for this year. And then you can go in full next year if you are satisfied.

            But I do agree with what others have posted that if this is the farmer's first time doing a CSA, you might want to give them time before joining up. They'll probably have kinks and logistics and all that that will be new to them. (Oh, and this is kind of late to be signing up, at least for my area. The sign ups for this growing season were way back over the winter and most CSAs are full.)

            1. I love love love my CSA. I am happy with the size and variety of the food shares but more importantly, I love my farmer and I'm happy that I can support him and his family so that they can continue the important work of growing delicious, organic, food so close to the DC area. I guess the relationship is almost as important as the food itself. As a shareholder, I SHARE the risk associated with farming - bad year, fewer items; catastrophic weather, may kill or delay a certain crop. My farmer sells at my local FM so I see him each week, know his kids, ask how things are growing, and have visited the farm to see things in action.

              A few things to consider before joining, however: Who are you buying from, exactly? Can you talk to the farmer, visit the farm? What do they typically grow and are those things you eat or will try? Do you have a backup plan for vacation weeks or when you can't use up your share?

              Some weeks, I allow friends to get my share and sometimes I distribute items right away to friends so abundant items don't go to waste. We have a local food bank that takes fresh produce and I've gifted them with kale and butternut squash on occasion.

              Prior to this farm share, I belonged to two others. One moved its distro point to an inconvenient place. The second stopped its farm share program so it could devote more of their crop to the FM. I still buy from the second ones as they have some unique items I *must* buy - shishito peppers and french melons, to name just two.

              1 Reply
              1. re: tcamp

                I am in the DC area as well and have yet to try an CSA - overwhelmed by the options, I suppose. Can I ask which one you belong to??