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Have you heard of a CSA? It’s an abbreviation for Community Shared Agriculture, which you can tell is a fantastic title, since nobody uses it. You’ll hear people call it a CSA or a Farm Share.
What it is and how it works
Joining a CSA is kind of like investing in a farm. At the beginning of the growing season, you purchase a share in a CSA, which is usually just a local farm that has decided to sell its produce this way. Once the produce is ready for harvesting, you receive a regularly scheduled bundle of produce. If the weather and growing conditions are favourable that year, you’ll receive a lot of produce. If it’s a tough year for farming, you’ll receive less. When you buy into a CSA, you buy into the unpredictability of farming.
Does this seem like a bit of a gamble to you? It’s not. Here are 6 reasons that make joining a CSA worth it.
#1: The Incomparable Taste of Fresh Produce
If you’ve ever had a carrot straight from the garden, you know that fresh produce just tastes better. Listen to how users describe getting their fresh veggies from their farm share.
“I loved the fresh produce, creatively using mountains of certain items when they were in season (we figured out creative ways to consume crazy amounts of radishes at one point), exposure to new things (I’d never had jicama before that summer), learning about what grows when in our area, getting lots of use out of our “Simply in Season cookbook.” -Rebekah
“I like getting dirty, ugly carrots and scrubbing them up and tasting something a whole lot different than what we eat from Superstore.” -Corinna
#2: Support local farmers and learn about how your food was grown
Meeting the farmer who grew your food is also a great way to connect more with how food is grown and eventually arrives on our plate. There’s something about it that strikes people as a more natural and human process than picking food off of a shelf, just like you would a package of Lego. Check out what some people who participate in CSAs had to say about it:
“I like connecting with the farmer and hearing his passion for veggies.” -Corinna
“Highly recommend it for supporting independent local farmers alone, never mind the great nutritional and educational benefits that come with.” -Rebekah
“I’ve always been interested in the environment and health, and I thought… what better way to contribute to the local economy, do something good for the environment, eat fresh veg (without pesticides/herbicides etc), model these things for my son, and contribute to another healthy pregnancy.” -Natalie
#3: Expand Tastes and Cooking Skills
With a farm share you get less control over which veggies you eat. This might not sound very desirable, but it can actually be fantastic, because it forces you to cook and eat foods you might not otherwise encounter, in amounts that you would probably not choose. This expands your cooking, your tastes and your nutritional input.
“I liked receiving a variety of different items throughout the summer. This was a great way to incorporate new and different items into my meals and challenged my cooking skills/abilities.” -Elizabeth
“I have been exposed to SO many new veggies I would never have bought before. Hello kohlrabi, Rainbow chard, yellow zucchini, crazy peppers, and apple cucumber! My cooking repertoire has expanded immensely and my son eats most of it. I doubt there is a toddler exposed to more vegetables than my son and he looks forward to getting the bin every week.” -Natalie
“This year we pickled green beans for the first time and I now have a new favourite kind of pickle!” -Corinna
#4: Eat More Veggies
Receiving a large shipment of veggies every week not only forces you to eat different kinds of veggies, it forces you to eat more of them. As you may already know, eating more veggies is great for your health. There are very few people who wouldn’t benefit substantially by adding more veggies to their diet, so this is a huge benefit from your Dietitian’s point of view.
#5: Eat Seasonally
Most humans throughout history have had no choice but to eat food when it’s in season. It’s a very recent luxury that we can go to the grocery store and pick up tomatos in winter, and it’s something we already take for granted. Eating seasonally can renew your appreciation for the luxuries we have, and a lot of people find it just feels right to eat what’s in season, making their food consumption habits more similar to the rest of the world.
“I like the idea of eating according to the seasons – when it’s spring, it’s salad and asparagus everyday, when it’s fall, it’s butternut squash soup. It gives a certain rhythm to the year and a sense of anticipation as we look forward to the veggies coming up.” -Corinna
#6: Gain a Sense of Community
The people who purchase from a CSA get together weekly to collect their produce, and they share a common bond. The result of this is that tight-knit communities often grow… organically
“We plan to have a soup cook-off (kind of like the show) sometime in the next few weeks and share what we make with each other for more variety.” -Natalie
“We get recipes from other farm sharers, whether through his blog or simply in line as we try to decide between turnips and radishes, and hearing glowing reports on simply boiled turnips and their natural sweetness and opting for a veggie that normally doesn’t get much notice around here.” -Corinna
“It’s nice developing the relationship with customers and the appreciation they have for what I do.” -Jonathan, CSA farmer
An Interview with a CSA Farmer
Smart Nutrition: How did you get into hosting a CSA?
Will: I got into hosting a CSA fairly easily because first and foremost I’m a farmer. LOVE farming and everything that comes along with it. It’s not a job, it’s a lifestyle, and I think it’s the perfect place to raise a family. So naturally my love for growing things and getting my hands in the dirt transferred perfectly to hosting a CSA. I’m also quite involved with social media, and I’ve become very passionate about sharing my farm experiences to try and educate people on what the “modern day” farmer looks like, where and how your food is grown, and what some of the challenges that accompany farming entail. I love the conversations that come from social media, and spin off to become face to face meetings in my garden or on the tractor/combine. People are always welcome to come and see for themselves what farming is like.
Smart Nutrition: What challenges do you face?
Will: Challenges with the CSA are interesting…I’m new to “organics.” So I’m learning things like how hard it is to grow organic corn, and kale. Weeds don’t bother me, it’s the bugs. The other biggest challenge is marketing, finding people to be involved. Last year was my second year doing the CSA and it was an unbelievable success, I’d certainly like to keep that momentum going
Smart Nutrition: What do you find rewarding about the farm share?
Will: Our CSA is set up where members don’t need to do any of the work. We deliver to central pick up locations and specific times, and the members meet me there. I find it extremely rewarding seeing the members every week, having conversations about the produce that’s in this week’s bin and what they did with the food from last week’s. I love seeing photos of what people made, what they canned for winter. I LOVE when some of the members brought their kids to the farm to walk through the garden and see what was growing. Some of them came multiple times and could see the different stages of growth. I really love people. So any chance I get for conversation is so rewarding
Smart Nutrition: What type of produce could someone expect to get?
Will: The produce is seasonal…so at the beginning of the season the first produce is usually different types of lettuce, and rhubarb…maybe some dill. Then radishes. This year we started some cherry tomatoes in a green really early, so hopefully the members will get some of those right away! All of the sudden there will be Swiss chard and spinach, then cucs and tomatoes, peppers, carrots, beets, potatoes, corn, zucchini, summer squash, butternut, pumpkins…so much!! There’s also dill, parsley, basil, oregano, Rosemary, mint, cilantro. I’m sure I’m missing something, but there’s a lot!
Smart Nutrition: Why should someone participate in a CSA?
Will: The CSA is such a great thing to participate in because first of all you’re getting fantastic fresh produce every week. It’s certified organic. My favorite part is that you’re supporting local business, and you’re developing a relationship with the person who is producing the food that’s on your dinner table. If you want to do the math, the season runs generally from late June until the first week of October (weather dependent), and the price you’d pay on vegetables in a grocery store would actually be far more than what you’re paying for a membership! Now, you have to like eating your veggies…and you have to be flexible to plan your meals around what’s coming in the bin every week.
Smart Nutrition: Any other thoughts?
Will: Some thoughts…I’ve really REALLY loved starting this CSA. I believe that relationships are one of the most important things in life, and this CSA helps to grow some of those relationships.
On the business side of things, I’m also what you might call a “conventional” farmer with the big family farm. When I look to the future of what this farm will be, I don’t see us buying more land, I see us trying to farm what we already have more efficiently and productively. That concept is dear to my heart. We want to be great stewards of the land we have. The CSA falls into that vision I have for the future of this farm.
I’m Sold.. now how do I join a CSA?
If you live in Southern Manitoba (where I’m from): here are a few farms to contact:
In Ontario, check out this link to search for a CSA near you
In the USA, check out this link to search for a CSA near you
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