When you join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) you’re making an investment in your health, community, and environment. Becoming a CSA member creates a relationship between you and your local farm where you’ll gain knowledge of what you’re eating: from recipe ideas, learning about farming practices, and trying heirlooms and unusual produce.
Many of you asked us how a CSA works. In order to give you the best possible information, we asked one of our members, Jim Wilson of Wilson Farm, to shed light on this important subject so you can make the best decisions for you and your family.
Here’s what Farmer Jim Wilson of Wilson Farm has to say:
What is Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and how does it work?
Community Supported Agriculture is a partnership between a consumer and a local farm where the consumer becomes a “share-holder” of the farm. Throughout the farm’s growing season, the “share-holder” picks up shares that include the farm’s freshest, seasonal crops.
What is a share?
A CSA share traditionally consists of locally grown produce. In recent years, shares have grown to include meats, seafood, dairy, and flowers.
Why is Community Supported Agriculture important?
Unlike buying from a grocery store, joining a CSA guarantees you will receive the freshest, local produce available. Every dollar spent goes directly to the farmers that grow the crops. Additionally, when you support local businesses you choose to reduce environmental impact, invest in your community, and encourage local prosperity.
Why do customers have to pay upfront?
Customers pay upfront for their CSA share to help the farmer buy the seed, hire help, and provide an immediate income to begin the farming season.
Do farms manage their CSA’s differently or are all CSA’s pretty much the same?
For the most part, farms all run their CSA program pretty much the same. There is typically a day, time, and set location for pick-ups. It is important to make sure to read over your chosen farm’s CSA guidelines before signing up.
What’s the difference between summer and winter shares?
In New England, summer and winter shares differ greatly in terms of the items you receive. In the summer you may receive anything from sweet corn to vine-ripened tomatoes. Winter shares may bring you root vegetables or items grown inside a greenhouse.
Is a CSA better for individuals or families?
CSA’s are great for both individuals and families. You can typically find shares that vary in size that will fit your needs. At Wilson Farm we have customers who split our small shares with friends, neighbors, and coworkers. This is a great way to reduce cost and waste!
How can I tell if a CSA is a good choice for my family and me?
While joining a CSA gives you access to a bounty of fresh, local produce, becoming a member isn’t for everyone. It’s important to consider that joining a CSA is a commitment to cook. If you dine out often, a CSA may not be for you. If you plan on vacationing or being away from home during the harvest season, a CSA may not be for you. Additionally, if you don’t eat your shares within a week, you will continually get backlogged with stashes of fresh produce that will inevitably get wasted.
What size is a typical vegetable share?
Sizes vary based on the farm. At Wilson Farm we offer a small and large share. A small share feeds 2-3 people each week and includes an average of 6-9 different items per share. A large share feeds 4-5 people each week and averages 12-15 items per share.
Do I get to pick and choose the items in the share?
Traditionally shares are pre-packed every week with only the freshest and most bountiful crops. At Wilson Farm, if there is an item you don’t care for, we do offer one exchange per week in a swap box and encourage that you share any other items you may dislike with friends and family.
Are CSA’s always vegetables?
CSA’s aren’t always vegetables! Depending on the farm you may find eggs, flowers, fruits, and dairy products included in your share. Many farms also offer specific meat, seafood, flower, and dairy shares for you to join.
Do CSA’s ever include items grown by more than one farm?
The bulk of your share will be grown onsite at the farm you sign up with. However, farms often create partnerships with other local farms to ensure enough product for their CSA members.
What happens to the CSA if there’s a storm and crops are destroyed?
Community Supported Agriculture is a partnership between the customer and farm. Investing in a CSA implies that you are taking a risk with the farmer. Unfortunately extreme weather plays a major part of a farm’s harvest.
What happens to left over produce?
What happens to leftover produce varies farm to farm. At Wilson Farm, we donate the items to local food pantries.
How do people typically receive their share? Is it delivered or does it have to be picked up?
Each farm offers different options for picking up their shares. Pick-ups are typically available at the farm on specific days and times. Occasionally farms offer pick-ups at locations in neighboring areas or delivery to your home. Your local farm will be able to provide further information about share pick-ups.
Thanks, Jim. We appreciate your insight and your valuable expertise.
(This post is sponsored by Wilson Farm, a member we love. Wilson Farm puts in 134 years of farming expertise into each piece of produce and we are honored to have the opportunity to interview Jim Wilson. We’ve been to their farm store in Lexington, MA many times and it’s a feast for the soul – full of beautifully presented local food, flowers & gifts. You can learn more about Wilson Farm by visiting their member page. Thank you for supporting our local food members who keep Fresh New England running!)
We have some great ideas sprouting up so watch this space for more delicious finds.