If you’ve never heard of a CSA, get ready to meet your new favorite membership in the world.

By Stacey Ballis
April 15, 2020
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Waiting out the COVID-19 crisis has definitely made us all feel a bit seasonless. It was winter when we began sheltering at home, but now spring has sprung in much of the country. (It's hard to imagine—but still possible—that we might all still be staying home through the beginning of summer.) Meanwhile, this is the time of year when many people plan their home gardens and plant spring and summer produce. Which is great if you have a space to garden, the time, and a green thumb. But for many of us, access to those amazing seasonal items is limited to our local farmers markets… which are suspended for the foreseeable future.

If you shop regularly at your local farmers markets, you probably could name a few local farms and might even have friendly relationships with some of the farmers. You know who has the best berries, the sweetest corn, the spiciest peppers. You also probably know that farmers are struggling to plan for survival. With restaurants shuttered around the country, supply chains impacted, not to mention the available labor force reduced, farmers are having to figure out how to manage crops and get their products into the hands of consumers.

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) to the rescue!

So, there is no better time than the present to subscribe to a Community Supported Agriculture—or CSA—service. The CSA has always been a win/win proposition. You commit to paying in advance for a weekly delivery of produce from a local farm (or cooperative of farms), and then all season long you pick up your produce at either the farm itself or a predesignated pick-up spot. This means every week you pick up your "share" of the farm’s seasonal fresh items, often supplemented with bonuses like farm-made jams, salsas, sauces, or local honey (some CSAs include meat, dairy or eggs). Meanwhile, your farmer gets money in her or his hands at the beginning of the season, which means they’ve got capital to work with and also know how much they need to grow to support the orders they have in hand.

It may sound like a pandemic-era invention, but CSAs have been around for years and years. Now, more than ever, doesn’t this make the best sense?

Why you should join a CSA

First off, many farms have decided to do home delivery of products for the time being (many used to rely on pick-up locations), making it is safer for everyone. That makes CSAs as convenient as grocery delivery, and if you have a good relationship with a neighbor or two, you can arrange for one drop off for your block at the home of someone with a secure location, or who is always home for deliveries.

If you are worried about there being too much in the box, because you are single or just a couple of people in your household, think about going halfsies with a friend! This is always helpful in splitting up the contents, since often one of you might be looking askance at eggplant, but the other loves it! If you are worried about how quickly farm fresh produce can turn, it is a terrific time to learn basic preserving techniques. Quick pickles, fast jams, and even blanching and freezing for future use are all simple projects that require no special equipment and no canning techniques.

In addition, many CSA farms provide recipes, storage recommendations, and other resources right in the boxes or on their websites. Some will allow you to customize your boxes, and some will allow you to add on extra products. Some farms even have flash-frozen items to add to your orders. Once we are allowed to gather again, consider that many of these farms host farm-to-table dinners, farm tours, or other events that can be a great way to connect in person. What a way to celebrate our return to the wider world, and thank our farmers in person!

How to find your local CSA

Finding the right CSA for you is a small research project, but we’re working from home, so there’s no time like the present! Here’s how to get started: Google “CSA” and the name of your town to see what might be offered. If you have a local farmers market, check its website: Often there will be a list of farmers and which of those do CSA offerings. If you know a friend or colleague who has done a CSA, ask about their experience and if they recommend that one. Or crowdsource some info via social media among your circle. Chances are someone you know has had a great experience and would love to see you join and support that farm!

5 Tips for Picking the Perfect CSA for You

Finally, here are some things to think about before you choose the right CSA for you:

  • Are you more interested in fruit or vegetables? You might want to choose an all-fruit or all-vegetable subscription.
  • Are you or anyone in your household a very picky eater? You might want to be sure your box is customizable.
  • Do you normally travel, or is your schedule erratic? You might want to look for subscriptions that allow you to suspend for a week, or shift delivery dates. We’re all sheltering at home right now, but at some point that will change and a CSA is for a whole season!
  • Would you get more use out of a dairy/egg/meat/poultry delivery? There are CSAs for these as well!
  • Are you concerned about waste? Look for a CSA with different size box options.

Love your produce! Love your local farmers! We are all in this together!