CSA = Community Supported Agriculture, where you pay for local produce.
Matt and I decided to join a CSA in May when we moved back to Atlanta. I received my last Summer Season box this week, but we’ve enjoyed it so much that I just signed us up for the Winter Season membership to keep the produce coming.
There are likely more wonderful reasons to join a CSA, but here are eight specific reasons why I fully recommend joining a local CSA:
1. Organic and In-Season Produce
Most CSA farms are completely organic. I’m a member of Rise ‘N Shine Organic Farm out of Calhoun, GA. Preservatives and additives aren’t required because the produce is local, and everything is freshly grown. You won’t get sweet potatoes at the beginning of summer or strawberries in the winter.
Occasionally, there is something I want to make that requires me to buy produce that’s not in-season, which means a quick trip to the grocery store, but the CSA has made me more aware of this, and I try to stick with my produce from the CSA as much as possible. But sometimes you don’t get a particular item even if it is in season – onions, for example – which are needed in a lot of dishes (side note: onions are one of my favorite foods, ever). It’s good to keep in mind that the CSA isn’t going to 100% cover your produce needs, but it’s a great start to changing your buying habits.
2. Try New Things
Before I joined my CSA, I would end up buying the same types of vegetables over and over again. But with my CSA, the boxes are pre filled before pick-up, so I get a unique assortment of produce that I wouldn’t have necessarily picked out for myself at the grocery store. For example, I got 2 lbs. of cucumbers at some point over the summer – I rarely buy cucumbers. They turned out to be great for making a Greek salad, and I turned the leftovers into pickles, which was new for me!
I’ve used my CSA produce to make several items that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise:
· Eggplant Fries
· Fresh Salsa (pictured)
· Sweet Potato Coconut Curry Soup (pictured)
· Mashed Candy Roaster Squash
· Roasted Acorn Squash
· Lettuce Wraps
· Kale Chips
· Succotash (pictured)
And I add the produce as ingredients in staple recipes as well:
· Beef Stew
· Leek & Garlic Fried Rice (pictured)
· Vegetable Stir Fry
· Hoppin’ John
· Caprese Salad
· Spaghetti Squash & Chicken Bake (pictured)
· Oatmeal with Spiced Apples
· Blistered Cherry Tomatoes
· Butternut Squash Soup
· Baked Sweet Potatoes
Some CSA memberships have swap boxes if there’s a particular item you really don’t like, or they setup the produce as first-come-first-serve where you pick whatever you want. I chose a farm that was specifically NOT first-come-first-serve only because my after-work commute would have put me there towards the end of the time slot, and I didn’t want to get all the “leftover” produce each week. However, a lot of people DO choose this option, especially if there is a picky eater or two in the house.
3. Easier Grocery Shopping
Unless I need a particular item that wasn’t in my CSA box, I don’t have to shop in the produce section most grocery trips, reducing the amount of time I spend shopping. Plus, my shopping style has now changed from getting ingredients for specific meals to buying staple proteins/fish that can go with a variety of vegetable options. Right now, I have wild-caught mahi mahi in the freezer that I’ll defrost if I decide to make a big salad for dinner. I also bought organic turkey meatballs that I can toss into a vegetable stir-fry soon, and I have 2 lbs. of sweet potatoes, which I’m going to use for a make-ahead-and-freeze sweet potato casserole for Thanksgiving.
4. Eat More Vegetables
This one seems obvious but surprised me, as I thought I was eating a good amount of vegetables before the CSA. Now, with a more consistent amount of produce, I find myself deciding to cook one more meal instead of eating out because there is produce that I don’t want to waste. Or, I’ll make a salad instead of having bread or add kale into couscous to make it a more robust dish instead of increasing the amount of grain.
5. Easy Pick-Up for City Dwellers
There are several types of pick-up/delivery options depending on the specific farm that you join. With my CSA, the farm is outside of the city, but they deliver produce boxes weekly to major grocery stores in the area. I selected the store closest to my house, and all I have to do is go to the customer service desk and they grab my box from the back.
PRO-tip: Be more active! I take a reusable grocery bag and transfer the produce from the box to the bag before leaving the store. This way I can walk the mile to the store since it’s easier to carry a bag home than a box full of produce.
6. Options for Amount of Produce
There are options for full shares (full amount each week), half shares (full amount every other week) and partial shares (half amount each week). I do a half share for the two of us with no kids. It’s the perfect amount for two people if you cook most weeknights and go out more on the weekends. At some farms you can opt-in to an egg share or order organic cheese and meat ahead to be delivered with your produce box.
7. Pay Monthly
I don’t know what the options at other farms are, but Rise ‘N Shine offers a discount if you pay in full as well as an option to pay monthly. We prefer the monthly payment option – less of an up-front investment and we can plan for it in our monthly grocery budget.
8. Support Your Community
This one is very important! Your money is going back into your local economy and directly helping farmers in your area.
So, go join a CSA!