CSA’s are only for yuppies…
CSA’s are farm boxes full of weird plants our family will never eat….
Huh? What’s a CSA?….
Let’s talk about CSA’s and if buying into a farm is right for you and your family.
WHAT IS A CSA?
In the traditional CSA model, subscribers (that’s you) pay a local farm for a share of the year’s harvest:
- Applications to join the CSA are collected in late winter.
- Payment is made in full at the time of application.
- Deliveries/pick up are made weekly at a set location for a designated period of time, usually the typical growing season of May/June to September/October.
WHY DO I HAVE TO PAY IN ADVANCE?
Subscribers provide the cash and capital for farmers to purchase the seeds, supplies, equipment and other investments necessary to produce a healthy harvest. Late winter CSA applications give the farmer a clear picture of the work necessary to fulfill the CSA commitments and also how or if they can turn a profit.
Why is that a good thing?
When farmers are successful (especially small local farms), communities are successful.
Look, farms are as American as well—apple pie. And you can’t get that pie without someone who performs the backbreaking and financially precarious job of growing the wheat, dairy cows for butter, apples, and sugar cane that go into making that simple pie. Small farmers create CSA’s as a savvy business model to make farming just a tiny bit more predictable.
When a farmer fails or sells out, open space becomes developed space, which change the innate identity and character of a community, not just the landscape.
As eaters, its our responsibility to support growers (especially local growers).
WHY JOIN A CSA?
Belonging to a CSA is almost as good, and as fun, as growing your own food. The obvious benefit is enjoying farm-direct, fresh, natural and usually organic products.
Other benefits, besides literally buying in– or placing your dollar vote in support of– your local community per the above, are:
- you get to make less trips to the grocery, a chore I absolutely ABHOR;
- you get one pick up so you don’t have to run all over town, something else I ABHOR;
- you feel obligated to work your way through all those vegetables so they don’t get wasted, a SHAMEFUL practice that I ABHOR;
- which means you will be eating more vegetables, which I LOVE;
- and you get lots of all natural, straight from the dirt goodness, which is AWESOME.
Joel Salatin is the owner, with his family of PolyFace Farms in Virginia, as well as the charismatic (even evangelical) proponent of traditional farming in the powerful documentary film “Food, Inc.”. Salatin is the face of a movement that espouses farming so sustainable it is “beyond organic”, as he likes to say. While PolyFace has a successful retail market on the farm, they also offer a Buying Club that delivers grass fed, pastured, all natural, non-GMO, hormone and antibiotic-free meats and eggs from March to December to 6000 families at 31 drops in Southern Maryland, including in Annapolis and Laurel. “The advantage of a Buying Club, or a CSA for that matter”, says Shari Salatin, “is that the customer communicates directly with the farmer. There is no middle-man”.
Shipping, distribution, and delivery: these factors and others are added into the retail price of farm foods whether you buy them at a Big Box grocer or at a farm stand. They also create a substantial physical and mental distance from the dirt to your plate.
“The Salatins still do all the work at PolyFace, so when our customers sign up for the buying club, they communicate directly with me. If our customers have questions about our products, they call us: the people who grow and care for our stock and our harvest. Who knows our products better than the people who look at it and feel it every day?”, Shari said.
WHY SHOULD I NOT JOIN A CSA?
The less obvious risk to joining a CSA is that subscribers assume the same precarious hazards as does the farmer. Bad weather, drought, increased costs of production, pests and crop failure: all of these disasters can affect the ability of the farmer to harvest and distribute their crop, which of course can affect delivery to the customer.
“A CSA is only as good as the quality of the farm the runs it,” says Susan Noyce. She is gearing up for her 5th year managing the popular Agriberry CSA, one of just a few all berry CSA’s in the entire United States. “A strong, profitable CSA requires experienced farmers who know how to plant crops properly, in the right place, at the right time. The farmer has to take excellent care of their land so it will be sustainable, she continues. “Otherwise the CSA lasts for one season or two and then folds. Crop failure isn’t just bad for the bottom line,” Noyce notes, “It’s terrible for a farmer’s reputation”.
CSA’s are NOT a good choice for:
- People who travel enough that they can’t pick up or use their share, or can’t find a friend to take it
- People who can’t commit to picking up their share at a designated time
- People who balk at paying for 3 months or more of farm goods up front
- People who aren’t able to think outside the box to use unfamiliar products
Let’s talk about that unfamiliar products thing, because…well, because frankly, it irritates me.
Most CSA boxes are overflowing with very familiar items like broccoli, lettuces, potatoes, squash and greens–items that grow well in the microclimate of your community. Farmers have no motivation to grow items their customers and subscribers don’t want and won’t pay for. If you find a lot of one item, it’s usually because it came into the peak of ripeness and will be gone very soon, so inhale the essence of the season while you can in as many ways as you can.
If you find an unusual item, say some weird striped heirloom beet you have no idea how to use and you don’t think you like beets anyway, well, GOOGLE IT! and USE IT! or at least give it to someone who likes beets and isn’t scared of a little bitty root vegetable. Email me! send me a message on FB!, I will help you figure out what to do with it! It comes down to this: don’t be picky or lazy!
If you think a CSA may be right for you, here are some popular choices in the Anne Arundel County area.
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