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?
I'd recommend looking into the management/ownership of the CSA. I made the mistake of unknowingly buying into a CSA "in transition" (original farmers left to start their own CSA elsewhere, replacement farmers took over at last minute), and was very disappointed with the meager results. Also ask them how long they've been farming that land and whether they've recently had any major personnel changes.
I'm happier shopping at the farmer's market. I get exactly what I pay for.
Two adult house, we do a 1/2 share here in Connecticut. It costs $625 for pickups from June through December (25 weeks). 50% payment due in March, the remainder on first pickup in June. I have no idea how many pounds we got each week...depends on the vegetable. My farm also includes fruits like berries, apples, pears, house-made cider, etc. that others do not.
It is fun to design the meal around the vegetable and when the CSA is in season we definitely eat much more veg and fruit. We like all produce for the most part so nothing gets wasted. It has made me learn how to cook things I never really tried to cook before (radishes, collard greens) and in turn has made me a better cook.
I have had a CSA for 4 years now, and I recently plunked down my money for a fifth. Last winter I paid for one through the colder months.I have belonged to 2 different ones, due to a move. Count me in the camp that loves them. We are two adults, and a half share works well for us, even with guests for dinner.
Granted, I live in Burlington, VT; there are an amazing array of CSA's available to me, in this town where food worship is a well-accepted practive. In general, there are a couple of factors that make CSAs make more or less sense.
How much do you center your meal around vegetables? I am an omnivore, but I lean more towards "meat as condiment." I have leaned harder since I put emphasis on using up my CSA every week.
How much do you eat out? How often do you cook a full meal? If you are eating out more than once or twice a week, you may not be home enough to keep a good grasp on the status of your fridge.
Do you cook predominantly with or without recipes? If you won't make a dish with chard because it calls for spinach, then a CSA may not work out well for you. I can't imagine making a plate of nachos without some sauteed kale in it anymore, because it is a handy way to use up the last of it. And I pretty much consider garlic scapes to be the equivalent of garlic until the scape season is over.
Do you have a pickup that works well with your schedule? I had one where I could pick it up on my drive home from work with a 2 mile detour. My current one I can walk down during an afternoon break from work. I also liked that for both of them, I picked stuff up a couple days before the farmer's market. So if I the tomatoes hadn't come in yet on my farm, I could supplement with others.
How much flexibility does the CSA offer and how much do you need? My first year CSA had a Sunday pickup. I was always going away on the weekends. Fortunately, she was very flexible and allowed me to pick up on Mondays or Fridays. My current CSA? No way. They are just too big to allow that; I think they have 100 or so shares, On the other hand, my first CSA pretty much handed me a bag (or two) of produce. My current one sets up tables where they give you options: Choose 6 leaves of Collards OR kale; 2 pounds of a mix of carrots, beets and radishes. You get the point: you have more autonomy, and you can decide whether you want small beets or large ones.
Finally, do you like the farmer? Are you going to be understanding if they flood out or if the pigs get loose and eat all the strawberries one year? Do they produce food that you believe in, whether they have organic designation or not? This is a business deal, but there is a level of personal interaction as well.
I still buy vegetables and fruit in the supermarket, just not as many. After all, oranges and pineapples are not local. I do notice that I no longer buy lettuce through the winter, because in my gut I understand how out of season it is. I pick up every week from May into October. Then every other week until Thanksgiving, then once a month (2 heavy shopping bags full!) through March. I still have root vegetables to work through, which will last the next month. Summer share was $415; winter share $350. $15 per week if you break it down to year-round basis. Expensive enough not to waste, but cheaper than our cell phone plan.
A friend uses a CSA (Washington, D.C.) where you opt-in, rather than out. On weeks you want a CSA box, you order online on Weds., then pick it up on Sat. To the box you can add certain other things you want - or just order things a la carte, without taking a box. You pay $300 up front. Depending on how much you order, the $300 could last weeks or years. When you run out, you just give them another $300. I think this is an ideal system.
We inherited a CSA half share (pick up once every two weeks) last summer from some friends who moved out of the neighborhood. Honestly, it really wasn't for us. Perhaps it was the particular CSA or their yield wasn't too hot that year. We didn't get too much of anything. In fact, it was like we got one or two tomatoes, one or two potatoes, one onion, one bulb of garlic, etc. I always had to end up supplementing from the store because the supplies weren't plentiful for us. I tend to cook in larger amounts so there are leftovers for the week or to put in the freezer. I was also always working during the CSA pick-up time so had to get DH to pick it up for me. The egg share was great, but we (household of 2) had a difficult time getting through our half share of two dozen eggs a month.
We are in a CSA, this will be our 2nd year and we are very fortunate to have a really good one. It's technically not a CSA itself but an aggregator who goes around to all the various farms and does detailed research to find the best, cleanest, most ethical/proper purveyors. They gather all the items each week and have scheduled stops all around the city at different days and times, like thurs-sat. When you sign up, you select where your primary pickup day/time will be and then pick a secondary as a back-up in case you were to miss your first one for some reason. You can take up to I think 3 or 4 weeks off for scheduled vacation. You can pay up front, online with a credit card or via check, the whole shebang (for a discount) or through weekly or monthly installments. And the basket/bag each week includes a variety of produce as well as select offerings from animal farms - usually eggs, milk or cheese or yogurt, sometimes specialty stuff like grains, apple butter, and select meat offerings like a small chicken or bratwurst or something. You can also buy extra of whatever off the back of the truck at pickup time as it remains available. We just love, love, love it. It really pushed us out of our comfort zone last year in eating a lot more things we hadn't really encountered before, and this year we are going to do more freezing and canning since we get tired of the same thing all the time when in season (how much zucchini can one family stand! :)
RR1, I know you are in the Cleveland area--are you doing Fresh Fork? I was torn between them and Geauga Family Farms. Have you done the latter?
We've been doing CSAs for about 5 or 6 years now and we love having our weekly surprise. Even with having a pretty productive garden we enjoy getting new things and finding ways to prepare them. I agree though, the zucchini can be overwhelming--good thing zucchini bread freezes well!
Yes, we are in Fresh Fork. I researched a lot of them before joining this one last year, and the advantages just really worked for us, mainly because we simply don't have time to drive to a farm each week. Nobody in my family likes sweet things, not even sweet bread, so zucchini bread just doesn't work for us. I have made it a couple of times but it never gets eaten. But I am armed to the teeth this year with recipes and ways to freeze/cook it!
I bought a half share in a CSA a few years ago. I really enjoyed getting to know the couple that ran the farm, and there were some wonderful treats in the weekly box (strawberries, tomatillos, new potatoes). There were also some misses - three straight weeks of dandelion greens, too many onions. In the end, I really missed shopping around the market. Sure, I saved time and money with a once a week pick up, but I enjoy exploring the market and comparing prices/quality. I wouldn't discourage others from trying it out, but it wasn't right for me.
I use a CSA for philosophical reasons: as a Director of a community (not for profit) farm, I appreciate that consumers are willing to demonstrate their faith in our abilities. Unfortunately, "my" Farm's CSA schedule and pick up location are not compatible with my life. So, I subscribed to a CSA in my own neighborhood. Our household is 2 adults; we split our one share with another household, alternating our pick up weeks. A full share is a LOT of produce. Some weeks we received 10-12 lbs. Often we still had a bit of produce (in good shape!) 2 weeks later, when it was time to pick up our next box. On the rare occasion that we were traveling on our pick up week, we would trade weeks with our "other half". I think that on one of our weeks I donated the box to a food-sharing program, as we wouldn't be able to use the food. The farmer grows using recognized organic methods but does not wish to expend the resources needed to become certified. $300, 12 weeks. Good value in our region (Vancouver, BC). I think that it helps to know the farmer ahead of time. Check at your local farmers' market this season, and consider who you might like to support next year.
I love my CSA, and just visited their warehouse today to pick up a specially offered, humanely raised, heritage breed half hog - butchered into various cuts and frozen. They are trying to move to a year round format. We really wanted to do the full year (in Winter they offer other farm products, dairy and meat, along with root vegetables, some greens, and winter squashes), but their wasn't enough interest to deliver to our area. Last year we got boxes of produce from the second week of May to the second week of Dec. That was a Spring/Summer share with a Fall share added on (Oct. to Dec.) I actually have been sad buying produce at the grocery store for the past 4 months. They are organic and organic farm cooperative of about 75 farms (they also supply a lot of restaurants in the region) and consider "local" to be within 100 miles. They are located in Lancaster Co. (and so am I) but most of their shares are delivered to the Philadelphia area. They also go as far as NYC and have drop off sights in MD and NOVA.
We are a family of 4 and do a half share. We could probably use a 3/4 share, but full share is just too much. Yes, you get lots of greens. Whether it is dandelion in the Spring, Collards in the Summer or Kale in the Fall, pretty much every week we averaged 2 different kinds of greens. But we also got tomatoes, radishes, squash, onions, garlic, okra, some surprisingly good sweet corn, and lots of other things I can't think of off the top of my head. For us, it was fun. Coming up with new ways to make the items was part of the "challenge." And my kids really never complained, which was a big surprise to my husband and me. The fact that a lot of the items were new to us too, seemed to make them more willing to try things. My CSA also holds picnics at the member farms once a month in the Summer time. Since almost all the farmers are Amish, it's been really fun and educational experience for the whole family to go. They are potluck, and the food other share holders bring has been fantastic and the cooking by the host family - well, there's nothing quite like that.
Gee, can you tell I love my CSA?
The worst thing I can say about them is that their website kinda sucks, you can see for yourself.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.