The Many Benefits of Joining a CSA
Guest Post from DietsinReview.com
The CSA, or community supported agriculture, has become a popular alternative way to buy fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables directly from local farmers.
If you aren’t satisfied with the cost or quality of the produce at your grocery store, or can’t get out to a farmers market, joining a CSA will cover you.
It works like this: Farmers sell shares‚ of their crops to the public, which can include fruits, vegetables or other farm products like milk or eggs. Shareholders can either pick up or have their shares delivered via a weekly box or bag.
“I’ve been participating in an individual CSA with my farmer in upstate NY for the past three years,” said Anne Maxfield, entrepreneur and founder of The Accidental Locavore. “It’s been a wonderful experience. Besides getting the freshest possible produce from a farm where sustainable farming is the standard, I’ve been exposed to all sorts of vegetables (and some fruit) that probably wouldn’t have made it into my shopping cart at the supermarket.”
The best way to find the right CSA is to ask around for recommendations, through friends or at your farmers market. Searching on LocalHarvest.org will show a map of CSA farms near you. Typically there is an annual membership to join and monthly dues, which range from approximately $25 – $100.
“There are a lot of benefits to joining a CSA,” said Zimbo Paul, owner and operator of Vintage Quest Acres in Knoxville, TN. “A store gets food from many places mostly far away, but a CSA will be strictly local. The issue of local vs. not local impacts nutrition, the environment, carbon footprint and quality control.”
So how do these benefits impact you if you’re thinking of joining a CSA?
“As a society, people have been trained to value appearance over nutrition,” said Paul. “Most corporate factory farms have depleted their soil to such a point that they produce food that is nutritionally bankrupt. An organic or chemical-free CSA typically will use composted leaves, hay or manure as a fertilizer which contains everything needed to make nutritious food.”
Another reason to shop for local produce is food safety. “Just look at the recalls in the news,” said Janelle Vane, co-owner of Wilson’s Farm Market in Bel Air, MD. “Have you ever heard of a recall from your local farm? Buying local produce gives you the best nutrition, because it is much fresher than produce that has been shipped into the country or across the country.”
While there is a cost to join a CSA, many consumers find it to be a sound investment because of the higher quality product they receive. “My members tell me that by having all this fruit and produce in their home, they feel compelled to use it, which means they eat out less and stay home to cook,” said Vane.
In addition to the shares they sign up for, Vane’s CSA members have access to a complimentary herb and sunflower garden, as well as use of the farm during CSA pick-up hours.
“Receiving the perks on top of what members pay for their produce is a great package,” said Vane.
Paul agrees that joining a CSA is a good way to support your local economy. “Buying anything local, especially food, helps keep money and jobs in your area,” he said.
Sense of Community
Joining a local CSA will not only allow you the opportunity to support local farmers economically, but it gives you the opportunity to unite with other members of the community.
Many CSAs hold farmer meet-and-greets or member pot luck events so that everyone can get to know one another. Other programs require members to commit volunteer hours either by working on the farm or at the pick-up location to encourage participation.
“Some people, especially those with children, [join a CSA] for the experience,” said Vane. “They can see where everything grows, ask us questions, spend time walking about the farm. We allow members to bring their dogs, a picnic, make friends and just enjoy themselves.”
Additional reading: CSA vs. Farmers Market. Which is right for you?