At the beginning of the 2015 season, I asked some our long-term shareholders to answer questions about the difficulties and concerns involved in being members of a CSA.
1) Isn’t it annoying to have so little choice in the produce you receive?
RW: No, I also view that as a perk. I always appreciate the opportunity to try new things. I am not very adventurous in the store, and I’d NEVER spend money on something I’ve never tasted or prepared. However, if I bring home a new item from the farm, I google it and discover a new recipe ( or two) and we are always happily surprised. Also, the advice from Thera and John, along with their own personal opinion on the taste is very helpful.
JB: I find the limited choice good for dealing with the desire to use it up in one week. I think like more CSA supporters, we agree with using what’s in season.
MS: I love the surprise of not knowing exactly what will be available each week, although you do have an idea of what crops are coming up at the various stages of the larger growing season. I also enjoy the challenge of then figuring out what to do with some of the produce items I am less familiar with – a chance to learn about and try new things. You and Thera are always helpful in responding to any questions about new produce items, as well as in offering suggestions on how to prepare them. Everything is always so fresh and tasty, I look forward to my weekly produce run.
JT: Not at all! You get a nice mix of things you know and things you don’t. It’s fun learning to use produce you are unfamiliar with. It also teaches you to be flexible.
2) Isn’t it inconvenient to have a scheduled pickup time, and another place to go shopping?
JT: Not really. Having a scheduled pick up time gives us something to look forward to each week, and we have fun at the farm. The CSA is about the produce, but it is also about the people and enjoying yourself. Some people go to different stores for their groceries anyway due to discounts and sales, so going to pickup at the farm and going to a normal stores for other sundries is no different.
MS: Being part of a CSA is largely a philosophical choice, although I think the economics are also compelling. Coming to collect produce at the location where it was grown and having a chance to talk and interact with those who sowed, tended, and harvested is an incredibly important step in creating stronger connections with our food systems. The enormous disconnect between producer and consumer is, in my opinion, a major hindrance to our ability as a society to address our environmental challenges.
JB: No, I live very near.
RW: No, stopping at the farm is always a pleasant experience, even when I am in a rush…
3) I like fresh produce, and am interested in supporting a local business, but I don’t think I have the time to deal with unfamiliar produce and inconsistent amounts. Should I just try to shop at a farmer’s market?
RW: Yep, I think the CSA just isn’t a good fit for everyone!
MS: Supporting farmers markets is good, but the “market” exchange that happens in a CSA is a completely different experience. Buying into a CSA means that to some degree you share the risks and rewards of your local farm. As for inconsistent amounts – that can work both ways. When weather is challenging for crops, the weekly shares might seem light(er) – but in my experience I have always gotten a good supply of produce even on some of the lighter weeks. But the shared risk/reward system of inconsistency also works when there is an abundance of a particular crop. A pleasant and unexpected bonus that happens quite frequently, actually! It does help to be someone open to new things to try some of the unfamiliar items – but learning should be a part of everyday life. It helps keep us alive and in wonder. How boring when we only stick with what we know!
JB: The freshness is key for me; and most of the produce is not unfamiliar to me, so I don’t have this problem.
JT: You could, but if you actually looked at everything in a farmers market, you would also find unfamiliar produce and inconsistent amounts. It all depends on the weather and what is growing well that year! A benefit of being in the CSA is that John and Thera can help you come up with ways to cook things you may not know how to cook! A farmers market doesn’t necessarily do that!
4) My household runs on a tight budget. This seems like it would be too unpredictable for me to be able to plan my finances accordingly. Should I just buy from a grocery store, where I know about how much produce I can get for my money each week?
JT: This is a tough one. I keep a tight budget too, which just means I have to get creative with each batch of produce we get each week. I don’t expect the weeks produce to create a full meal each day of the week, so I try to combine different veggies to make casseroles or bakes or quiches. They do provide great sides for each meal though, so I only really go to the grocery store for fruit and meat to fill out the other meals.
RW: This is the “concern” I’ve heard from my friends, when I suggest the farm to them. IDK the answer. It is a lot of money… and I wasn’t convinced that it was “worthwhile” from an economic point of view for a few years!
MS: The biggest challenge (financially and for some psychologically) of the CSA model is paying for your produce in advance. Households on a tight budget may not have the upfront cash (the very problem of the farmer!), but in the end, when you factor the weekly cost and what you might pay for the quantity and quality of produce you received if purchased in a store or even at at farmers market, you are getting a really good deal. And NOTHING can compare to the taste of fresh picked produce. The freshness makes the CSA that much more of a value for money investment. To have adequate funds to sign up at the start of the season, one could put away $20/week over the entire growing season so that you had enough $$ to pay your subscription for the following year. A CAS is kind of like a savings account that you put money into and then make regular withdrawals over the weeks/months of the season.
JB: The amounts of food for the money work out the same for me. I think bcs I cook a lot and a variety of cuisines and don’t work a job that requires 9-5 committment every M-F, so perhaps iit’s easier for me than some to cook up the goods I pick up ea week. I think one key to satisfaction from the farm share is learning to cook.
And one shareholder didn’t respond to each e-mail, but sent a few thoughts. Here’s her summary:
JG: What kept coming to mind as I was reading your questions is the importance of someone’s mindset. In order to fully appreciate, support, enjoy and benefit from a CSA one must:
…understand the realities of farming, which requires excepting what nature provides and making the most of it.
…have a true desire to support local farming and eat local produce… Yes, a farmers market would meet this desire, but so does supporting a CSA.
…enjoy trying new things. Supporting a CSA exposes shareholders to new varieties of produce, which they most likely would not purchase on their own or even have familiarity. It’s an adventure!
… want the experience and charm. I find pick ups to be relaxing and a nice change of pace from my day-to-day routine. It needs to be integrated into one’s lifestyle.