You’ve heard about CSA, or community supported agriculture, but what is it, exactly, and how does it work?
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.
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.
At some farms with on-farm pick up, you do get to select your veggies, but at most, you get what the farmer provides in your box. Pick-up sites often have “swap boxes” where you can leave a vegetable you don’t like and take home the veggies someone else has given away. Think of it as a culinary adventure. You will probably learn to like new veggies via your CSA share. Most farms include recipes in their newsletters.
Given the amazing quantity of high quality farms serving our communities, finding YOUR farm can be daunting. FairShare-endorsed vegetable farms must grow or produce the vast majority of their products on farm, and be certified organic or in transition to organic certification. Our meat farmers must raise their animals in humane conditions. ALL farms must demonstrate an ability to provide a high level of customer service.
Start by thinking deeply about what is important to you about joining a CSA. Everyone wants good, fresh food, but do you want primarily veggies? Or a farm that provides eggs, too, or meat? Do you want to attend farm events with your children or grandchildren? If yes, how far away are your prospective farms?
Location of Pick-Up Site – With more than 175 delivery sites in the Madison area and countless others throughout Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa, there are plenty of options. Check out our interactive pick-up location map to find a convenient location.
Length of Delivery Season – The “regular” CSA season begins in May or early June, and ends anywhere from October to December. Many farms offer additional early season or late season share options.
Price of Share – A direct comparison of share prices can be misleading as farms have a different number of deliveries, crops, size, and delivery options. In general, a standard vegetable share (feeding ~2 adults, 2 kids) for 20 weeks costs approximately $550-$650; half shares cost about $300. Visit the individual farms’ websites for their 2013 CSA brochures for their share prices. Divide the total share cost by the number of weeks to get a per-week cost as you compare shares.
Specialty Items – Coalition farms offer a wide variety of seasonal produce, eggs, or meats. Additional specialty items may include fruit, flowers, honey, cheese, canned goods, large or bulk shares, u-picks and more!
Worker Shares – Some farms allow CSA members to pay for their weekly share by committing to work a specified number of hours each week on the farm.
Produce Variety – Do you eat with a sense of adventure? Some CSAs offer a wide array of produce with many different varieties of vegetables. Others offer a more tried-and-true selection of popular produce. Ask the farmer what you can expect in your boxes throughout the season.
The Pick-Up Locations Map is an awesome tool. Type in the address of your home, workplace,gym, school, etc., here, to see which farms deliver nearby. You can also search the map by farm location.
Contact the farms directly by phone, email, or website for their current CSA brochure, which typically includes share types and prices, and delivery sites. Also, look at the farm’s Facebook page to get an idea of how they interact with members and to see photos of their shares.
GHC-SCW, Physicians Plus, Unity Health and Dean Health offer $100-$200 cash rebates for purchasing fruit or vegetable CSA shares. Ask your HMO if they do! Get the details, here.
FairShare’s Partner Shares Program works to reduce the barriers of CSA membership in our community by providing cost-sharing opportunities, and accepting payment plans and Quest card payments. Low-income households can get up to a $300 grant toward the cost of joining a farm. Learn more, here.
We highly recommend “From Asparagus to Zucchini,” our bestselling cookbook. It’s packed with more than 400 recipes, and cooking and storage tips for over 50 vegetables and herbs – all in alphabetical order! Celeriac, parsnip, burdock root, fennel? No problemo! Order the cookbook, here.
CSA is so much more than a bag of groceries. When you think about the value of your CSA share, there’s a lot to consider. Buying directly from the farm means you are buying the very freshest, tastiest food. Vegetable varieties are grown for quality, flavor and diversity – not shelf life. CSA helps you learn where your food comes from, how it’s grown, and how to prepare it. When you join a CSA, you keep your food dollars local and support a small family farm. Becoming a CSA member means you’re joining a community of conscious eaters. Invest in good, clean food and the creation of a safe, community-based food system in Southern Wisconsin!
For more information on how to choose a farm, or for assistance in using the tools on this website, please contact FairShare at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (608) 226-0300.