Should You Join a CSA?

The basics of joining a CSA

With health and wellness taking center stage, more and more consumers are becoming invested in how and where their food is produced. If you’re a health-conscious, vegetable-loving cook, community-supported agriculture may be just what the doctor ordered.

What is CSA?
CSA stands for community-supported agriculture, whereby consumers buy local, seasonal food directly from a farm. In a typical CSA, farmers offer "shares" to the public, and buyers, or "shareholders," receive a set amount of seasonal produce throughout the farming season.

CSAs offer multiple share sizes for buyers to select from based on their produce needs. It’s common to see CSAs running in spring, summer, and fall, and some farms even sell year-round shares. In addition to produce, some CSAs offer meats, eggs, cheese, flowers, and other farm products.

What are the benefits of CSA?
Consumers benefit from CSA in several ways — most notably, eating vitamin-filled, farm-fresh food; being exposed to new vegetables; and having a "stake" in where and how their food is grown. Farmers benefit because CSA improves their cash flow and means they can spend time farming their food, rather than marketing it. And as the name implies, CSA directly benefits the local economy via farming.

But with the good comes the bad. Shared risk is inherent to CSAs, and participants always run the risk of buying into a bad crop. If the crop does not fare well, shareholders may be stuck with mounds of mediocre produce and no clue what to do with it all.

Is CSA right for me?
If you’re thinking about joining a CSA, you’ve got to love vegetables and enjoy cooking. CSA participants end up with a lot of produce every week, and food waste is not an option for these conscientious consumers.

How do I join a CSA?
With tips, community forums, and comprehensive farm lists, LocalHarvest is a great resource for anyone who wants to learn more about or join a CSA.

The fine print
Don’t expect CSA to fully replace your produce shopping. You’ll likely have to round out your selection by stocking up on additional produce at farmers' markets or grocery stores.

— Katie Walsh, HellaWella

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