Joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) is one of the best ways to buy fresh, seasonal food, to support local farmers, and to reduce your food miles. If you're new to CSAs, or looking for one to join, here's a guide to get you started.
1. Understand how a CSA works. Community Supported Agriculture is a partnership between community members and a local farm, with all parties sharing the benefits and risks of food production. Individuals typically become shareholders, members, or subscribers by paying in advance to cover the costs of the farm's operation. In return, they receive boxes or bags of food during the growing season, usually in the form of a weekly pickup or delivery. Shareholders may also be required or have the opportunity to visit and work on the farm. For a more comprehensive overview of how CSAs work, see LocalHarvest.
2. Find a CSA farm. There are a number of databases that can help you find a CSA in your community. Check LocalHarvest, Rodale Institute, Wilson College, Eat Well Guide, and Just Food (for NYC).
3. Contact the farm. Don't be shy about asking any questions that are important to you, for example, what is the crop list and growing season, do they offer extras like meat and eggs, do they grow organic, how big is a standard share (and do they offer different sizes for smaller or larger families), where and when is pickup or delivery, do they have payment plans, do they offer refunds if you go on vacation, etc.
4. Carefully consider your needs and abilities. How much food do you really need and can you really cook in a week? Will the pickup or delivery time and place work for you? Can you fulfill any requirements to work on the farm?
5. Sign up early. Farms offer a limited number of shares, so don't wait. The growing season varies depending on your location, but in general you should sign up for a spring/summer CSA now.
6. Enjoy the harvest! Joining a CSA is a wonderful way to discover unfamiliar fruits and vegetables, or to learn more ways to use them (check out our sister site, The Kitchn for advice). Sometimes you might be faced with a surplus. Don't be overwhelmed, just follow these Seven Tips for Managing Your CSA and put those pickling skills to use!
Additional Notes: Also check out these CSA-related posts from our archives:
• Summer CSAs: Sign Up Now!
• Summer in Review: How Was Your CSA?
• Cooking with Okra And Other Lessons Learned from a CSA
(Images: Emily Ho)