Are you interested in eating healthier and have read and agree with all the literature but are still having a hard time spending the extra money on organic produce and animal products from your neighborhood market? No need to fear, CSAs are your answer. What’s a CSA you might ask?
Well CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. It is basically your neighborhood local farmer that offers a number of “shares.” It’s kind of like a club membership. With club memberships, you pay your dues in the beginning of the year (or whenever) and you use the club amenities. It’s the same thing with a CSA, you pay for your dues up front then you get your produce.
You might be wondering if this is a new phenomenon. It isn’t although it was first introduced into the US back in the early 80s. CSAs have been around since back in the 40’s. And actually, according to research done by Cheryl Brown and Stacy Miller, its big business. CSA have grown considerable over the past decade, up 150% from 1994 – 2006. In fact, the total nationwide sales in 2005 were estimated at $1 billion, a 13% growth from 2000.
So again, famers sold shares of produce (or in some cases, meat, eggs, flowers or even honey) to consumers before the planting season began. Shares can range from 12 weeks to year round. Each week the shareowner picks up a portion of produce until they have gotten all the produce they have paid for. This is a win-win strategy for both farmers and consumers in most cases (I’ll explain why I say in most cases later). According to Local Harvest (your first stop in looking for your neighborhood CSA, www.localharvest.org), farmers win by marketing their food early in the year before the begin laboring in the field, the receive payment early and that helps with their cash flow. It is advantageous for the shareowner because they get really fresh food (and often times, organic) for much less than if they go to the grocery store. They also get exposed to a variety of new vegetables and go on a journey with food in the way of methods of preparation and new recipes, in a way they wouldn’t have if they went to store and picked from what was available. It also teaches the consumer the tomatoes aren’t a year round fruit (yes, a tomato is a fruit).
However, CSAs aren’t for the faint at heart. You have to be someone on a committed path to changing your eating habits, in most cases, have to like greens, are passionate about going on a food journey because you will be introduced to vegetables that you’ve never even heard of let alone seen. Sometimes you may not get as much produce in one week as the next, so you have to be prepared for the variance in the amount of produce you get. Being a CSA shareholder means that you are not only sharing the produce of the farm, but the risk and rewards of the farm and farmer as well. But I must reiterate that you save a whole bunch more on your grocery bill, eat much better, reinvest in your community and cut down on your carbon foot print, making it a great addition (or start) to your sustainable living plan. Just do your due diligence with whatever CSA you choose. Maybe you can start of with a half share or sharing a full share with someone to see if you like it, or find a CSA that doesn’t have 22 week shares but 12 week shares. So start here in your search for more information about CSAs, www.localharvest.org. And get out there and participate in one, it may be the best decision that you’ve made for yourself and your family.