Grocery Geek Presents: Trying Out a CSA

Last week during our vacation, I got a chance to spend time with my friend Christina. She fed us a wonderful meal of grilled wild salmon, quinoa, and fresh vegetables from her local CSA. And we talked about everything under the sun: traveling, homeschool, and most importantly, food.

Our talk left me with a burning desire to try out a CSA subscription. Christina gets all her fresh produce from a local, organic farmer. And it was all delicious!

As I mentioned in my Food Your Way article this week,

A CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture, is a way to buy local produce directly from the farmer. Growers offer a certain number of shares to the public for purchase. Each week you receive a box of whatever’s in season in exchange for your subscription.

There are benefits to both the purchaser and the farmer. You get fresh produce, often delivered to your home, and he knows that he’s sold a certain portion of his produce before the busy growing season begins.

So, when we got home I did some research and found that I could buy a “trial subscription” for about $30 a week for 4 weeks. Each week we can pick up a large box of fresh produce at the Farmer’s Market. Since my grocery budget is currently about $150/week, I felt like it was an okay thing to test out.

Here’s what we picked up this week:

4 apples
6-8 oranges
2 heads lettuce
1 large bundle of swiss chard
purple carrots
4 zucchini
2 large avocados
2 melons
large bundle of cilantro
purple string beans
grape tomatoes

Yes, this is a total departure from my previous grocery shopping adventures. To some this may seem like a measly amount of food for the money. I think if I were always buying organic produce, I might have a better idea.

Certainly, what I buy on a regular basis is not grown locally and therefore, has to travel many days and miles before it gets to us. I also don’t buy organic unless it’s a rock bottom price or comparable to the standard variety. And we know that I am no good at growing it myself these days.

I’ve been told that the quantity of produce can vary from week to week. So, perhaps the next three weeks will give me a better idea of how to decide. At the moment I’m on the fence, hoping for some amazing culinary adventures.

What do YOU think?

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Comments

  1. We did an organic CSA this summer for the first time. While it was more than I usually spent, I usually don’t buy organic. I felt better about eating local and knowing that I wasn’t giving my family unhealthy pesticides. I’m in MN so the first couple weeks in May were pretty limited in my choices,. But for most of the summer, I really haven’t needed to buy much other produce other than onions, garlic and carrots. The part that I most enjoyed is that it forces me to be creative with my menu plans each week and try different things. We had kohlrabi for the first time this summer and, while, it’s not my favorite item, it’s also not bad. When we got a bunch of June radishes, I had the kids try a piece raw with salt (like my grandpa always did- something I’ll never understand), but then I discovered that if I saute them in a little butter, I don’t mind them! My youngest son (13) cheered a few weeks ago when he saw we had eggplant again (and he was serious, not sarcastic). My thought is that if a CSA can get a teenage boy to cheer for eggplant- it’s probably a good thing!

  2. I don’t have an organic CSA near my home but would definitely do it if I did. I am part of a “regular” one and still believe that it’s better than the store because it’s fresh and didn’t travel a long way to get here. I love having the variety of fresh veggies each week! This was the first year that I’ve eaten beets (made some really yummy borscht – who knew!) and boiled my own fresh edamame! We have also gotten locally made items like strawberry jam and egg noodles when it was early in the season and there wasn’t a lot of produce ready yet. One way we tried it out was by splitting a full share with another couple (we don’t have kids so it was a larger risk for just two people) and we take turns picking it up and then just split it each week. I think next year that I would do a full share but I would have to have a scheduled time each week to clean, prep and freeze the extra veggies. I started working full time in July and started school part time in September after being unemployed and looking for a job before that. It’s now a lot harder to find time to take care of the veggies! :)

  3. Good for you! You are creative enough to make this experience wonderful for you and your family! I am 100% supportive of the CSA’s and hopefully we will join soon! I look forward to hearing more.

  4. Based on prices in my area, I think that’s a great deal for the amount of produce you received. CSA’s are at least 20-25/week around here for a half-share, although those are not necessarily organic. I wasn’t able to join one this year, but I’m hoping to next year.

  5. We tried a CSA last year and (mostly) really liked it. We had to be creative to use up some of the vegetables, which I actually liked about the CSA. We had a yummy turnip dish, and I never would have bought turnips otherwise. I also had to figure out how to use swiss chard. We didn’t do it this year because I knew it was going to be a busy summer and getting the food picked up and used up would be a challenge. We may do it again next year. My only dislike, that I can recall, is that some weeks would be a little skimpy. But, again, it was a very good experience overall. BTW, ours was not an organic CSA and the cost was $25/week (we’re in Kansas).

  6. I am part of a CSA and we love it. While I could certainly obtain the same items for a lower cost somewhere else, they probably wouldn’t be organic, and they definitely wouldn’t be local. As Michael Pollan points out in one of his books, when you buy locally, the upfront cost may be more. However, you are paying the TRUE cost of the food – when you buy from the supermarket, those prices do not reflect the cost on the environment (due to pesticides, gas fumes, etc.) or to our bodies (pesticides, GMO seed, etc.). I also love trying new vegetables, talking to the farmer once a week, and showing my kids where our food really comes from. In a nutshell, a CSA is about more than saving money, it is a small step in saving our food system.

  7. I love my CSA! We have 2 options where we live in Western NY. 1 was organic & 1 was not. We prefered the variety from the non-organic CSA better, so that is what we went with. (Also, the non-organic uses a minimalist approach when dealing with pests & disease.) It averages out to about $16/week for 25 weeks. It’s worth every penny. Our CSA also offers bulk veggies at wholesale for those who like to can/freeze.

  8. I love being part of a CSA. This is my 4th year and I love the community and how it forces me to eat my vegetables, and to be creative in the kitchen.

  9. Yeah! I’m glad you gave it a try. I made a great soup with the swiss chard from our CSA this week. I sauted some bulk sausage, added chicken stock and sauted onion, carrots and garlic. Then when it was boiling added lentils. After the lentils were soft, I added a couple of frozen tomatoes I had, (or you could use a can of tomatoes), and then the last 5 minutes, I added the whole bunch of swiss chard (chopped up of course!). My kids don’t normally like swiss chard, but they liked the soup.

    Purple carrots and purple green beans! Fun! My kids think that it’s great fun to eat veggies of a different color.

    Our CSA was fuller in the middle of the summer. And last year was fuller at this time too. So it does vary. The cold then heat of late has made for a smaller share, but for us it’s still a great deal.

  10. Oh, What a coincidence!! Today morning I went to the Farmers market (for the first time) to buy lots of produce. I spent double the amount I would have paid at the grocery store, but i’m so happy that we are supporting local farmers. Also, the produce is so ‘alive’, unlike the ones at the grocery store. Love it!! Next year I will be joining a CSA. I’m new to this and am trying to figure out the best option.
    Did you know, they coat cucumbers and squash with transgenic corn wax..? That keeps them fresh looking even after they have travelled miles to the grocery store. They ripen tomatoes with ethylene gas made from gmo corn..I was shocked!!

  11. Jennifer Ott says:

    We joined a CSA last year, but did not renew our membership this year. We felt we got the “left-overs” of what they thought would not sell at the Farmer’s Market (for weeks we would get 5lb. bags of radishes!). We attempted to join another this year that some friends loved and recommended, but there were no shares left; we will try again next year. While we did love what we got, the variety wasn’t as good as yours, but it did encourage us to try new things. Still, there’s only so much you can do with broccoli rabe (another thing we got a ton of) and radishes!

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      @Jennifer Ott, yes, while I’ve heard mostly good reviews, I have read about some poor experiences. Not all farmers are created equal, but I guess that is to be expected. I’m sorry it wasn’t a better experience for you.

  12. We did a CSA two years ago and enjoyed it. But it was a regular CSA, and I felt as though if I was paying the money to support locally I would prefer to pay a hint more and get all organic.

    I contacted a local organic CSA farmer and she suggested we NOT do the CSA. We have two adults and two kids 5 and under. She felt it would be too much produce for us and even a 1/2 share would be too. She suggested another option that they had. You pay a fixed amount up front and then you get that dollar amount in credit at their farm stand. We didn’t do it last year…but we will this year. I decided I wanted to see what the farm stand had first and whether it would be worth it. It is. So we will. And it is about half the cost of the CSA.

  13. We just moved away from CA to the Pacific Northwest. So away from Henry’s! It was tough!

    I was struggling to make a good selection of produce fit in our budget! Our standard box is $32 a week, but a box lasts us 2 weeks if I buy extra carrots, bananas, garlic and onions, with the occasional purchase of grapes. We find that the produce is consistently excellent quality (if it is not or if something is missing they give a replacement in the next box), plus I find I cannot buy regular produce for the price we are paying and our box is organic.

    My girls call it the yummy box, and after visiting the farm love to eat their fruits and veggies – how do you beat that?

    Plus it is the only one I have heard of where you can swap stuff out and they work with other organic farmers. You can even order extra from their green grocer.

    Needless to say we love them and our experience has been positive.

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      Ours lets us swap out one item per week for whatever else is in their stand that day which I think is cool. The swiss chard was not a HUGE hit, so if it shows up in coming weeks, I may swap it out if possible.

  14. Something we have here in England that is very common is farm deliveries. It works similar to a CSA but the farms only purpose is to deliver orders- the don’t sell at any markets. Perhaps there is something of that kind in your area? I feel we get better prices this way. And it couldn’t get any more fresh! My carrots come completely covered in soil :)
    I’m afraid I’ve grown quite accustomed to my weekly veg delivery. It comes from a very large farm where I can also order eggs, milk, butter, juices, and about any meat you can think of! I try to get all my fruit, veg, and dairy, but I refuse to pay the high prices of the meat! Hope you enjoy your fresh produce!

  15. I would love to do a CSA but it’s WAY too expensive here for not knowing what you might get. I prefer to shop the farmers markets (several) every week and pick stuff I know we will eat.

  16. I have NOT tried a CSA, but if there is someone in the Western States who is interested in a fruit and vegetable co-op, please look into http://www.bountifulbaskets.org. In some locations you can order organic, but most locations are only standard.

    You typically get produce every other Saturday and can pick and choose which Saturdays you want to order. You don’t know what you’ll get until you get there that day, but it is 6 fruits and 6 veggies each time.

    Here is a link to my blog where I showed what I picked up today. My total cost was $16.50, although the first time you order you pay an extra $3. It’s a very good deal for my family. I believe the organic baskets are $25.

    http://goldenbeehive.blogspot.com/2010/10/bountiful-baskets.html

  17. I tried a CSA last year & after about 3 months decided to end the subscription. While I absolutely loved the notion of supporting the local farmers & getting fresh-off-the-fields produce, I just did not feel the selection I received every month was worth the $$. Maybe I wasn’t used to “real” produce, which isn’t all polished & “pretty” looking like what you get in the grocery market. But I also discovered how much I really like picking out my own stuff! Having the produce delivered wasn’t nearly as convenient as I had thought it would be; for some reason I kept thinking I wouldn’t have to go to the grocery store just to stock up on produce. But it just was never enough to sustain us for very long & the produce went bad very quickly. I try to shop the farmer’s markets & will drive an extra distance now & then to go to a large fruit stand in our area, but otherwise, it’s the grocery store for me – for now! :)

  18. I definitely want to try out a CSA, and am planning to next summer. I’ll be interested to hear about your experience!

  19. We have also been doing Bountiful Baskets (in AZ) for the last few months. The selection and amount of produce really surprised me. In our locations, they have sometimes offered additional add-ons like bread or granola. One week they had an Asian pack, which had lots of herbs and vegetables that were new to us, but very tasty. The thing I like the most about this over a CSA is the freedom to do it or not each week (they are on an alternating week schedule, but some locations here participate in both Weeks A and B). If you are away or you have plans that you know will keep you from using the food that week, you just don’t sign up. All the produce has been at least decent quality, with much of it very good, and we have never used it all in the two weeks (we would freeze some and give some away). It’s also a nice way to try out the way that it works–some people do not want to deal with not knowing what you will get each week or even needing to look up how to cook something. I just love that my kids are eating fresh vegetables!

  20. Jessica: You will probably do well with a CSA since you are more creative in trying out new recipes. However, you don’t know what will be in your share and you may struggle with being unable to plan the menu well in advance. My experience has been somewhat like Vicki R. It does take extra time to clean the vegetables and then figure out what to do with them, some of which you’ve never seen before. We stayed with the CSA all summer long with ups and downs. There are some new options available in our area (Michigan) where you have a little more control over what you receive that we will try next year. We paid $600 for a full share going mid May to mid-October.

Trackbacks

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  2. [...] resist pushing the envelope a little. If you read LifeasMOM, you already know that we signed up for a CSA trial last week. Four weeks to test out what we think about being “forced” to make good use [...]

  3. [...] month we subscribed to a CSA on trial. What fun to get a box full of farm fresh, organic produce each [...]

  4. [...] Our CSA adventure continues. Most of the items in our weekly produce box have been old standards: lettuce, avocados, tomatoes, apples, oranges, etc. [...]

  5. [...] upping our intake of veggies and increasing the amount of “real food” we were eating. I tried out a CSA, started making my own instant oatmeal packets, started baking our own granola bars, and even [...]

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