What’s the big deal about a CSA anyway?
How is it any different than buying organic produce at the grocery store? Or at our local farmer’s market?
I’m so glad you asked. 😊
At the most basic level, they ARE similar. You get nutritious vegetables from all three sources.
The difference comes when you look beyond the nutrition.
Let’s start with the organic label and how the vegetables are grown.
Many of us have questioned its meaning for a few years now. Don’t get me wrong: I believe the certified organic farmers are legit and follow all of the regulations designed to make our food safer. But I also know there have been many new labels created and some of the meanings behind them get confusing. And how many of us really know what regulations organic farmers have to follow?
When you shop at a farmer’s market, you can talk to the farmer about HOW he or she farms. If they aren’t busy, you can even spend some time talking about what herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers they use. That is a great first step.
Now let’s look at CSA farms. Not only can you read about their growing practices (organic or not) on their website, you also get the chance to talk with them about why they farm this way at each Pick Up. I send out newsletters each week and let our members know if any crop is needing extra attention. For example, two years ago we explained our practice of spraying copper on tomato plants to delay blight. Last year, we had a terrible time with tomato horn worms. I created a video showing the worms and explaining which organic pesticide (bT) I was using. Through these discussions and time spent together, you truly get to understand the details about how your food is grown.
Next up is food miles. This is defined as a mile over which a food item is transported during the journey from producer to consumer, as a unit of measurement of the fuel used to transport it. Common sense tells us the fewer the miles, the better.
Grocery store organic food can travel from all over the world. That’s a lot of miles.
Most farmer’s markets require the farmer to grow their own food or, at the very minimum, have it grown within the state. Taking into consideration the distance the farmer and you each drove to market, usually this means the food is grown within an hour or two of your home.
Many CSA’s have the option to pick up at their farm. The only miles your food has traveled is from the field to your fridge. Unless you are driving a long distance to get those veggies, the miles are pretty small; frequently less than 15 miles.
The third area to consider is what to do with the food when you get it home.
There’s no way around it, the organic grocery store produce has nothing on the conventional produce. You are completely on your own.
Farmer’s market booths sometimes include recipe cards which is a great help. The farmer may even have time to tell you how to store it.
Honestly, this is one of the areas a CSA stands far above the other options. Each of our members gets our VeggiePedia, a digital book with a page for every crop we grow. Each page includes a photo, some nutritional values, how to store it, how long it keeps, and a recipe. Remember those weekly newsletters I mentioned? I always include the available crops and links to our favorite recipes. You no longer have to waste time scouring Pinterest for recipes! One of the best ways to learn about using, storing, and preserving your veggies is our Members Only CSA Facebook Group. Here members and farmers swap ideas on what works and doesn’t work. You have the opportunity to join both a physical and digital community with like-minded people.
I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the extra benefits a CSA provides its members. You won’t get these with grocery store organic or farmer’s market produce.
In our Choice CSA, there is less risk with trying new foods. You will mostly choose to take home the veggies you know your family will eat, but you can also try new veggies with very little uncertainty. I mean, there is no extra cost for it so you don’t have to worry about wasting money if you don’t like it. Plus I tell you everything you need to know about it in order to set you up for the best success. Many members have told us their kids are more willing to eat the vegetable if they got to choose it and put it in their basket.
When you come pick up your share, you can literally walk through the fields and see your food growing. Other than growing it yourself, you can’t do this with your food. Frequently, CSA farmers will allow you to volunteer in the fields. When you care for the food through weeding, harvesting, or watering, you begin to understand its story and importance. You also learn how much work it is! You won’t get this connection to your food or the person who grows it if you just buy it from the grocery store.
At the Farm you experience a break from your busy schedule. There are other mamas chatting over the CSA tables, daddies petting animals with their kids, grandmas pushing the grandkids on the swings, and foodies cutting herbs for their dinner. Everyone is enjoying this mental and physical break. There is just something about being at the Farm that brings out smiles and laughter. It really is a fun place to be.
All of these differences and benefits mentioned above can be summed up with this:
A CSA farm is about community and relationships.
You make new friends who share common food interests. Your kids look forward to playing with other members’ kids and seeing the animals. You develop a relationship with the person growing your family’s food.
You might think I’m biased about CSA’s being the best option. And you’re most definitely correct. I want to be clear though. I don’t think the other options are bad. In fact, we also sell our produce through our FarmStand, a mixture between a market and CSA. But I definitely think CSA members experience far more benefits.
Don’t just take my word for it. Here are a few words from our members.
“We really appreciate the value our share affords us, the quality and variety ARNKA offers, and the connections we have made with the ARNKA farmers and the community they have developed.”
“I look forward to every Tuesday, and then to the good eating on Wednesday.”
“We thoroughly enjoyed our CSA shares every week. The kids love coming to play and see the animals, and the whole family is just amazing and so nice to work with!”
“In addition to the great shares, they welcome you to their farm and the farm life. As a want to be gardener/farmer, this sets this CSA apart… My ENTIRE family looks forward to Tuesdays when we get to spend a little time with this awesome family and experience a little bit of the farm life.”
So now the only question I have for you is What are you waiting for? Come join our awesome community!