Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a way to purchase fruits and vegetables outside of the traditional supermarket or produce stand. Participants purchase a share, or weekly subscription in a local farm, or farmer’s co-op. Each week during harvest season they receive a shipment of in-season, locally grown produce to enjoy. Is this alternative method for buying produce a good idea for busy families?
- Better for the Environment – Local Food has a much lower carbon footprint than produce shipped to your market from all over the globe
- Better for You – CSA produce is almost always organically grown
- Better for your community – It’s always great to support a local small business
- Makes you try new things – there are often veggies in the box that you wouldn’t have picked out for yourself
- Can be convenient – if you get home delivery, the box of veggies shows up on your front porch like magic
- Can save money – some CSA boxes contain a massive amount of produce for less than $20
- Not a lot of selection – some CSA programs let you de-select unwanted items, but you generally take whatever you get
- Takes more time and work – finding and trying new recipes for new veggies is fun, but takes extra time and effort out of your busy day,
- Timing can be tricky – if all the produce shows up ripe and ready to eat the day you get it, menu planning can get dicey
- Extra washing required – produce straight from the farm tends to be pretty dirty
- Can be inconvenient – some CSA programs require a weekly pickup at a specific time or place
- Can be pricey – some CSA programs (especially those with home delivery) can be one of the most expensive ways to purchase produce
(Let me start out by saying that I really wanted this to work for our family. But it didn’t.)
I am someone who is onboard with the local food movement. It bothers me that the contents of my produce drawer has seen more of the world than I have. I have had friends who are part of farm co-ops, or receive weekly farm boxes, and I’ve always been a little jealous. It just seems like the right thing to do: local food, organic produce, eating food grown in season. Win, win win! Because I work full time, getting to a local farmer’s market can be difficult, even though there’s practically one in every neighborhood all week long here. And I’ve noticed in Los Angeles the local, organic produce can be really pricey. Becoming involved in community supported agriculture is definitely a “nice to have”.
Imagine my delight one day when my husband signed us up for a LivingSocial deal for a reduced price CSA box from a local delivery service! I was super excited as I reviewed my options and chose the “small mixed box”. The first delivery was the following week. The delivery service came quite early and I found my box waiting on the front porch before dawn. My three year old was thrilled to dig through the “the box the farmer brought us”, and discover a fun variety of vegetables.
Our first box brought us several new flavors, and others we don’t usually buy. I had my hands full figuring out how to use everything that we received. I’ve been doing meal planning for a while, so the last minute scramble to make a new side dish recipe with every meal was a little overwhelming. I quickly changed the delivery to every other week, so I could use up the last of the produce the following week. Still there was produce that never got used, and went to waste. Almost all of the lovely greens we received were wilting within 24 hours (bye bye leaf lettuce, spinach, and radicchio). This was upsetting, especially after I had spent time looking for a recipe that worked with our main dish, and adjusted my weekly meal plan accordingly.
At the same time, we had a lot of successes! I made kale chips for the first time, and they were great! Even the kids ate them up. We all agree that chard frittatas should be a regular part of our menu. I got to enjoy veggies like asparagus that I never buy because my husband doesn’t prefer them. My husband (who was juicing at the time) had lots of extra goodness to toss in his juicer. I found myself adding extra chopped veggies into our usual dishes just to use them up. And I got to continue the conversation with my son about farming and where our food comes from.
Our farm box journey ended after two months. I sadly called and cancelled the subscription. I had wanted this to work so badly. But it was just too much for me. With small children underfoot I am in “the trenches” of motherhood. It’s a battle to keep everyone fed, clothed, diapered, napped and generally clean while keeping my sanity. Add on top of that a full time job, and I don’t have time to worry about new recipes every week. I love cooking and trying new things, but I don’t have a lot of time for improvisation after work if the kids are going to make it to bed on time! We were already eating tons of veggies - so this wasn’t really adding more veggies, just different ones. With extra time, and wasted food, the box became more of a hassle than anything else. And when I remembered I was paying for the privilege of that hassle… it was time to stop.
Although my experience was probably a 2 out of 5 leaves, I’m rating it a 3 because I really, really wanted it to work. I think it could work! I’m sure if I was a SAHM, with more flexibility to spend on the cooking and meal prep, my experience could have been much different. My hope is that one day, when I am in a different stage in life, I can try out community supported agriculture again.
Have you ever tried out Community Supported Agriculture? What was your experience?