Joining a community supported agriculture (CSA) farm has benefits

A weekly CSA food box can save time and provide one of the healthiest food service options, helping to meet your family’s seasonal vegetable needs in a sustainable and organic way.

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) has been growing in popularity over the last twenty years. Michigan State University Extension has been supporting it as one way to get the freshest locally grown and often organic produce available. When you join a CSA, you are pre-purchasing an annual share in a farm’s production. Consumers pay up-front for produce that will be grown and delivered or picked up as they become available throughout the growing season. This is often a box of vegetables proportionate to the size of the membership purchased. Most CSA growers will stagger plantings to provide successive crops making some items available many times during the season.

Besides supporting your local economy there are many good reasons why participating in a CSA may be right for you. The cost of a CSA membership is variable and can range from $200 - $600 per season. Before you begin, you may want to calculate how much of your family’s food budget is spent on fresh produce. Like anything, there are risks involved in this kind of investment.

Some benefits and risks are:

Benefits

  • Fresh locally grown food with minimal handling
  • Introduction to new vegetables and recipes for preparing them
  • Typically get to go visit the farm where your food is grown
  • Learn more about how your food is grown
  • Not unusual that the member families are able to participate in growing their food and often children will try more varieties of vegetables
  • Build a relationship with the farmer that grows your food
  • Organically grown food – inquire with the CSA to be sure
  • Environmentally sustainable through fuel savings by not shipping and storing the food

Risks

  • Crop failures mean losses to both the farmer and the CSA member
  • Expectations for food volumes, varieties or hands on activities not fulfilled
  • Unfamiliar or unanticipated food types requiring learning time to grow accustomed to them
  • Fungus, insect attack or disease causing the produce quality to be unacceptable
  • Unexpected events in the life of the famer disrupting production
  • Not a certified organic farm – inquire with the CSA to be sure

Don’t expect that you will be able to provide all your produce from a CSA. One farm alone may not grow everything your family needs to provide a full balanced diet. In most cases, the food provided by a local CSA will be seasonal. If your family is not accustomed to eating seasonally then you have to allow time for your family’s lifestyle to change to accommodate the availability difference. Make sure you understand the CSA policies before you sign up, such as what happens when you are on vacation or if you forget to pick up your box on time. Some questions provided by Local Harvest that you might ask a potential CSA before you join can help to prevent disappointment later.

If you are interested in becoming a CSA farm, there is training available that provides essential information for the beginner CSA farmer starting in February from MSU Extension; it’s titled “So you want to become a CSA Farm?” If you are looking for a CSA farm close to you, visit Local Harvest.org and enter your zip code into the search engine.

 Michigan State University Extension has educators working across Michigan who provide community food systems educational programming and assistance. For more information, you can contact an educator by conducting a search with MSU Extension’s “Find an Expert” search tool and using the keywords “community food systems.”

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