Taking the CSA plunge

Smörgåsbord!

CSA smörgåsbord! Photo by Lost Albatross [Emily Mills] via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

It may come as a shock to you, dear reader, but The Conscientious Omnivore has not been a member of a CSA until recently. Very recently. In the past, we’ve bought our local produce at the farmers’ market, or the co-op, or the grocery store. (It’s pretty easy to do so in Madison, especially once summer kicks in.) But, we’re cooking at home regularly these days, and I’m feeling extra eager to fill our meals with fresh, local, organic veggies. So, this week J and I finally took the plunge and became a member at Vermont Valley Community Farm. How did we select them? I’d heard good things about them previously, and last week I discovered that they have a pickup location very near my office, making it really easy for me to grab our produce at the end of the workday each Thursday starting in early June.

For the uninitiated, let’s allow FairShare CSA Coalition to provide a quick introduction to the CSA concept:

What is CSA?

CSA is MUCH MORE than just a weekly delivery of food or food products. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a powerful investment in your health, community, and local economy. It’s a partnership between farms and consumers that keeps independent businesses thriving, helps families eat seasonal, local produce, and charges farmers and consumers with the responsibility of building a strong, equitable food system.

How does it work?

CSA members invest in a farm early in the season by purchasing a “share” of that farm’s products in advance. In return, members get a delicious weekly or bi-weekly box of foods, carefully raised, harvested, and washed by the farmer, all season. Members pick up their shares in their neighborhood or at their farm,  and can participate in work days, potlucks, u-pick gardens, and more.

CSAs have advantages for both farmers and consumers, which is why we finally joined. As LocalHarvest describes,

Advantages for farmers:

  • Get to spend time marketing the food early in the year, before their 16 hour days in the field begin
  • Receive payment early in the season, which helps with the farm’s cash flow
  • Have an opportunity to get to know the people who eat the food they grow

Advantages for consumers:

  • Eat ultra-fresh food, with all the flavor and vitamin benefits
  • Get exposed to new vegetables and new ways of cooking
  • Usually get to visit the farm at least once a season
  • Find that kids typically favor food from “their” farm – even veggies they’ve never been known to eat
  • Develop a relationship with the farmer who grows their food and learn more about how food is grown

For more on CSAs, including tips on selecting a farm, check out the FairShare “nuts and bolts” overview and their FAQs page, and head to LocalHarvest for more useful info as well. Zach and Clay at The Bitten Word also have some tips for CSA neophytes.

Madison-area folks: Did you know that most local HMOs will rebate some of the cost of your CSA share as part of their wellness programs? I’m sending in my paperwork today to get back $100! Get the scoop here if you live in my neck of the woods, or contact your own health-insurance provider if you live elsewhere in the country.

Finally, if you think you might be ready to take the plunge, find CSAs in southern Wisconsin here and anywhere in the country here. Now’s the time to sign up, so get on board while you still can!

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