Community Supported Agriculture: What You Need to Know
At its basic level, a CSA is a subscription for fruits and vegetables. On some farm operations, items also include meat products or value-added goods such as, baked or canned goods, handmade personal or home care products like soaps and lotions.
You buy shares, and the sizes of shares vary, but most farms will offer a variety to suit your needs. They will let you know how many the share typically feeds for a week. Oftentimes payment is required up front, but payment options and plans can be arranged, depending on what the farm prefers.
A thoughtful CSA farm will give you an idea as to what you can expect in your deliveries and an estimated number of weeks you will receive goods – knowing that all is truly dependent on the crops and weather. The items in the CSA share are truly seasonal and are determined by what has been planted and is ready for harvest; the CSA share holder does not pick what gets delivered. Owning a CSA share is a great way to try new foods, as some farms prefer to offer a variety of goods and some that are not typically found in grocery stores. Additionally, CSA shares are a great way to enhance your food preparation and cooking skills; cooking with and serving whole foods are typically healthier compared to already prepared foods.
Deliveries will also vary with each farm, including day of week, time, and location - so choose one that will align with your schedule. Your goods will likely be delivered in a box or bag, which may be reusable. Allowing you to continue to bring back an empty with each delivery, reducing waste and eliminating the need for continued expenses.
Farms typically open their CSA shares in the late winter and early spring, as it will drive their seed purchasing and spring planting. Spending food dollars locally has a direct and profound impact on the local economy and allows those dollars to circulate longer. Throughout the year, you can find numerous CSA options across North Dakota and while many farms might not have CSA shares remaining, now is a good time to start the process for next year. Get to know the farmers, ask about growing practices and farm operations, so you can get the information you are looking for to make an informed decision about how your food dollars are spent.
Key Take-Aways for CSAs:
- Items and varieties are picked for you, depending on what was planted and is ready for harvest
- Offers items that may not be available in the grocery store
- Delivery days, times, and locations vary
- Share size can vary to match needs of share holder
- Seasonality of foods shortens the time it takes to get from the farm to table
Overall, purchasing a CSA share from a local farm can have a direct and profound impact on the local economy, environment, and your family.
Jan Stankiewicz, MS, MPH cert.
Community Health and Nutrition Specialist