Thursday, April 17, 2014
Every year around this time, I get asked about CSAs. "How do you feel about them?" "Which are the best to join?" "How do they work?" "Are they worth it?" My answer to all of these questions is the same.
"It just depends."
For those of you who aren't familiar with the term, CSA stands for "Community Supported Agriculture" The premise is that some time in the winter or spring, you can join a CSA by sending the farmer cash, which is exactly what he (or she) needs to buy seeds and fencing and all the other various expenses that come with farming. In exchange, you get a weekly portion of the harvest, which you are responsible for picking up at a designated place and time. CSAs are a great way to support local farms.
There's always a 'but', isn't there?
Despite my attempts to find one that works for our family, I haven't been able to. Here's why:
#1. I cannot be tied to a weekly pick-up time, especially during the summer when vacations and day trips and canning demand that I not be committed to any form of schedule. Furthermore, the cost of time and gas to even get to the pick-up site must be considered, and in many cases it is not insignificant.
#2. I would say my family is more open to trying new foods than the normal family is. And I am certainly more familiar with cooking from scratch than the average home cook. Yet in every box, there is always SOMETHING that we just won't eat... or, something new that we try and don't like. This is just wasted food, and I hate wasting food.
#3. In my experience, the amount of food you get in a CSA box pales in comparison to the amount of food you would get if you spent the same amount of money at the farmer's market. (Perhaps because sorting the boxes is more labor intensive? I don't know.)
I decided, therefore, that I would take the money that would normally be invested in a CSA, and still give it back to the local farmers. However, by shopping at the Farmer's Market, *I* would be the one to choose which foods I went home with. I get to choose not only what veggies I want, but also what varieties of those veggies I want. No wasted food. I get to chat with all of the farmers, not just one. If I can't make the Farmer's Market on Wednesday, I go to the one on Saturday. For bulk purchases, I attend the produce auction which also supports local farmers.
Sometimes I feel like a real heel when I tell people we don't participate in a CSA. But... (there's always a 'but', isn't there?) ... it's what works best for us.