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Mar 22, 2012 11:31 AM

CSA - how many chowhounds use a CSA

This week I watched a fabulous movie that was in the ending 1/2 hour or so about CSA.

This put me to thinking again about trying to find a CSA for the two of us. I have tried the last two years in my area; but there has always been some problem - sold out, too far to reasonably travel, not the right produce, too expensive, not enough months of produce (here in Winchester, VA). (We do have local Farmers Markets on the weekends, even though one doesn't ever know how much care is taken with their gardens - asking doesn't help a lot - but not in 'all' instances.' But I have bought grass-fed beef, and other meats locally.

I didn't see any up-to-date postings so far here, except one lucky person who mentioned getting their CSA that week, and another in Vancouver.

I think I know the questions to ask: How many months, how many pounds on average, any money up front in addition to the yearly payment. I've read some pretty discouraging complaints, too, about people getting into a CSA and becoming so disappointed. But I don't know how one combats that except just to take the chance.

Any information for me about how far they travel, how many months, how many pounds/boxes, how expensive?

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  1. It's one of those "feel-good" purchases that only works for some. I happen to have worked with a weekend farmer who lived in the city but owned a working farm that his wife tended (with help) during the week. He would bring a box of produce in every Monday containing whatever was then available. The novelty wore off soon enough and while we did use some of it, a lot ended up being wasted. And that was all free to me.

    My habits don't lend themselves to creating meals around a box of produce. In teh summer we either end up eating out more or cooking simply. I know CSAs are great for lots of people, just not us.

    2 Replies
    1. re: ferret

      I can certainly understand 'creating meals around ... produce.' I am busy today just using up/prepping organic collards, cabbage, arugula in whatever fashion will not be wasteful.

      The 'other/alternative' way is to pick out a recipe that one thinks a particular produce will be available for that recipe, and then track it down.

      Either way, a choice must be made for the 'cook.' Thanks for your input.

      1. re: ferret

        I have to echo Ferret's sentiments.

        We tried a veggie, half-share, CSA for one season. It "felt" good, and there was some neat produce in the shares, but it was a bad choice...for us. Too much waste.

        We're now winding up a (3) month meat CSA. No waste, because it's frozen, but cannot keep up with that, either.

        Live and learn.

      2. Here in Bermuda, a local farm just started up a CSA program. For me, the up front payment is not a big deal, worked out to $20/week which in Bermuda is a bargain for fresh veggies. Yes, I have some wastage as the bag I get is pretty big for 2 people and yes, you are subject to whatever the farmer happens to have plenty of. And for me, growing up Asian, it definitely forced me to confront all sorts of veggies I've never seen (kohlrabi, rutabaga's, collard, kale). It pushed me to be creative and if I got lazy, there was always cottage pie to hide any offending items from picky eaters. I think it takes a certain type to be willing to be beholden to the farmer for their produce.

        Having said that, I love my CSA. The veggies last longer and taste way better than anything that is imported onto the island. Our growing season is from October to May/June. I'm not sure how much it weighs but we get a little of everything. Winter squash weighs more than the baby lettuces so weight is not really an accurate gauge for our CSA. I drive about 20 minutes to get to the farm stand and they have meat and eggs too so it's nice to pick up other groceries as well.

        1. I haven't found one that grows enough things that I don't to make it worth it to me to do it (lord knows I don't need any more zucchini than I already have in the middle of summer,) but I would love to find a meat/eggs CSA.

          1. Here is a thread about my experience with a CSA last year:


            We had a half share and got probably 10-15 lbs a week (including several watermelons over the course of the season). It was a lot for two people to absorb, particularly since I was also growing my own tomatoes.

            This year I have doubled my own garden space and will be growing the things I liked from the CSA, and buying things that are a pain to grow. I will be glad to not have to deal with all that damn lettuce.

            2 Replies
            1. re: travelmad478

              Thanks for the thread -

              Here is a comment I really liked by gordeaux
              "I think if your CSA is fully organic, then that might be your yay or nay factor (or at least a big part.) I don't see what the point of joining a csa would be otherwise. A non organic csa could simply buy sale priced stuff off of your grocers' shelves, and mark it up for you after they put it in a fancy bag."

              Not exactly the same thing, but close: at the beginning of the season here near Winchester, VA, one sees road-side markets that sell all sorts of produce that one knows are NOT local. For example, oranges, bananas, tomatoes...
              Surprisingly, there are usually buyers.

              1. re: Rella

                Many CSA's cannot afford organic certification and still have integrity.

            2. I remember years ago, I liked the idea and subscribed to one for the season. Growing up eating a lot of Asian vegetables, it was not easy trying to make my meals around the weekly (or was it bi-weekly) box of produce. No substitutes, no option to stop for one week. When I had time, it was kind of fun to look up and try new recipes with unfamiliar produce (such as garlic scapes), but I do recall there was way too much rutabaga and zucchini that I couldn't learn to like. I also had to plan my menu accordingly to use up the more perishable produce first. When I had to be away from town, I had to find a neighbour to take care of it. It was a fun challenge for a while but the novelty wore off.

              Fast forward to now, I have been with a grocery delivery service for about two years. I had a crazy lifestyle and lots of responsibilities, yet still would like to eat local and/or organic for mostly health reasons. It was impossible to find time and energy to find and shop for these myself, even if they were available. This service I am using has an online user interface that allows me to hand-pick from their list of organic produce what I want for my weekly delivery. They source from both local and overseas suppliers, and this information is clearly listed for each item. This way, I can decide between getting local produce (which can sometimes get very expensive) and getting a better deal.

              I can also skip a week when I am away or tired of the selection (which is not small but I do miss my Asian greens and fruits, or simply the non-vegetable dishes). They also source other locally produced grocery items such as eggs, milk, cheeses, and artisan bread. It works beautifully for me, given my budget, lifestyle and need for flexibility. I feel good supporting a business that supports local producers.

              It's not CSA but maybe you can consider something like this if there is one in your area.