The first time I heard of farm boxes was back in 2003, visiting relatives on Long Island. I was chilling in their kitchen when my aunt comes bursting into the door, cardboard box in tow, squealing, “The CSA is here!” My immediate thought: WTF is a CSA?
Turns out CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Members pay a fee each year and for X amount of weeks receive a box of fresh local produce. Judging by the way my aunt’s face lit up when this box appeared, I knew I had to check out what was inside. It was early summer so it was filled with squash, peas, and a crapload of Swiss chard.
“What are you going to do with all that chard?” I asked my aunt.
“I have no idea. But that’s the fun of the box!” she replied, pulling out her cookbooks.
I kind of forgot about the whole thing because I was a poor college student — and there weren’t many of them in North Carolina at the time. Now I’m a real live grown-up with an apartment and a husband and furbabies, so we decided to try our own subscription to farm boxes. I have to tell you, they ROCK!
We started out subscribing with a small organic farm in our area that has a very flexible plan. We paid $200 and each week went to their pick up station, chose the produce we want, and the choices were deducted from our $200 credit. While not as exciting as getting the random mystery box my aunt got, I still got ridiculously excited each week to see what they have to offer. And while I thought my aunt was crazy to be so excited for all her Swiss chard, I now find myself with armloads of mizuna, scouring the internet and my cookbooks for creative ways to use it.
With the growing popularity of food subscriptions, there’re all sorts of versions out there. We’re still members of our original farm, and now we’re also members of a seafood CSA! Each week we get all sorts of mysterious fish — and less-mysterious options like crab and shrimp — fresh from the Outer Banks. I’ve also heard of wine, grass-fed beef, and other food subscriptions. If you can think of it, it’s probably out there waiting for you!
Is a farm box right for you?
- If you’re thinking it will save you money, it probably won’t. Lettuce and asparagus are cheaper at the supermarket, but wouldn’t be nearly as fresh — or organic. Do it for the culinary adventure and to support your local farmers, not to save a buck!
- If you’re a picky eater, this won’t be your bag. Because farms deliver seasonal and local produce, you can’t expect a box of mangoes if you’re living in Ottawa. If you’re open to trying out all sorts of produce, game on!
- Mottainai! This Japanese word basically means to minimize waste and be mindful of your impact on your surroundings. If you’re the sort of person that doesn’t cook very often or the thought of having to peel, chop, and cook your meals on a regular basis gives you nightmares, you’ll probably find that you end up wasting a lot of the produce you receive. And that certainly wouldn’t jive with the mottainai philosophy.
- If you have food allergies/dietary restrictions, talk with the farmer before joining. I don’t know if there’s such a thing as a lettuce allergy, but if you had one you’d be bummed when your box arrived stuffed with lettuce. Many farmers are happy to work with your needs, and some subscriptions allow you to choose each week’s produce, but it’s important to thoroughly research programs so you don’t waste your money!
- Know your source! I’ve noticed recently that there are some “national CSAs” cropping up that include things like bananas and other obviously not-local produce in their boxes. Look for a program that welcomes you onto their farm and is open about answering questions about its farming practices. This is your chance to have a direct connection to your food! Some subscriptions even have “working shares” where members pay less in exchange for coming out to the farm a couple of weekends a year to help out. Many state agricultural extensions have websites that will help point you in the direction of CSAs in your area. In NC we have ncfarmfresh.com as a great starting point.
- The most important thing is to HAVE FUN with your farm box! Each week my husband and I have a great adventure planning out our meals so we use up every bit of our boxes. I’ve tried recipes I’d never dreamed of using in the past and eaten plants and fish I’ve never heard of. And on those rare days when we discover something that we just can’t stomach, our dog usually picks up the slack for us.
Updated to add Offbeat Becca’s great tips for finding a CSA in your area: Try googling near by cities + “community supported agriculture” or “csa” or “farm box” or “farm share.”
Comments on Let me tell you about the box of produce I get from a farm each week
I loved my farm box so much, I started working for a CSA-type farm…..and now I get my weekly farm box for free! I can’t recommend farm boxes enough…its a little bit like Christmas on my doorstep every week. 🙂
Don’t forget the power of Farmer’s Markets as well! Right now ours is all plants, but it still feels great to purchase a plant and literally watch my money leave my wallet and go into the farmer’s wallet. Ours is pretty reasonably priced, too – if it isn’t cheaper than the grocery it’s the same price or close and MUCH better for the local economy. If a CSA isn’t a viable option for you (our closest one’s drop off point is 30 minutes away! The Farmer’s Market is 3 days a week 10 minutes from my house) then consider the market!
Yes! I got amazing baby purple artichokes and chantarelle mushrooms this morning, along with sweet peas for my guy (he’s the recipient of blooms in our relationship 😉 Now, to hunt for a recipe!
We’re working with our city to make the sale of raw agricultural goods legal and once we do that we’ll be looking into running our own CSA!
Erm, so is everything at the grocery store packaged? I’m sorry I’m just scratching my head at this one. Why in the world would you not be allowed to sell produce?
Maybe they meant dairy or meat? I dunno. I know it’s complicated to sell raw dairy. Here in NY you can only do it at the physical location of the farm. With big fluorescent WARNING signs posted.
Yeah in Indiana raw dairy is a bit tricky to sell as well, but ALL raw agri goods? Where does The Law think food comes from?!
Hooray for CSAs! I got a share at a local farm because of their signs at their stand in the farmer’s market we go to most weeks. I was disappointed because I am a picky eater and hate hate hate some of the things I wound up obligated to buy. (I’d hoped I’d learn to branch out, and in point of fact, on several items I did, so it was still FTW in some cases.) Also, I like to “spread the wealth” and by from a number of farms in a trip.
Well they must have really read my comments in their survey (and I must not have been alone) because this year they’re tending to be much more flexible and only have one required item each week. And, the person pitching it to me specifically mentioned that “some people like to buy at several farms to spread their support, so don’t forget ‘micro’ shares!” which are half the size. LOL.
You can find CSAs through LocalHarvest, too – though nowadays they’re so well-advertised you can’t help but stumble upon ’em.
Ahh!! So interesting this article was posted today. My in-laws are splitting a weekly box with us this year! 🙂 I literally can’t wait, I’m so excited for organic, locally grown veggies!
We love our CSA! One week we got a shiton of scallions, so we searched and found a recipe for Scallion Gratin. Yes, that’s real, and yes, it was yummeh!
Oohh, we have this as well. We have a weekly subscription at the organic supermarket in my town and every week I get a paper bag full of veggies and pay for the next week. In the bag is a letter which lists some recipe options (they also have a accompanying website) and where the vegetables come from. Mostly from my own country (which is smaller than some states in the US 😉 ), but sometimes from Southern Europe too, but only transported by truck or boat – no CO2 emitting plane ride for my veggies.
I love the creativity and surprise element of the bag. Plus is often has less common (“forgotten”, old fashioned) vegetables in it, opening a whole new world of taste.
If in doubt, do try this! It’s great!
I’m very much a proponent of CSAs as well! A few notes:
– The primary purpose of CSAs is microfinancing for farms. You pay upfront for them so that farms don’t need to be so reliant on banks during non-growing season. When growing seasons starts, they pay you back interest in ‘extra food’! I think it’s important for people to understand that there are other sides to CSAs besides just having local foods.
– I have found produce to be cheaper through my CSA than the grocery store.
– My partner and I work weird hours (anywhere from 4am-11pm, different days) so cooking meals is not always easy. I would just spend an hour blanching and freezing the vegetables into dinner sized portions so we weren’t wasting. We also did a little canning with cucumbers.
I buy from a local farmer’s market but a few coworkers buy from our employer organized CSA pickup. Because I work for a large entity (university), the university partnered with a few local farms to have CSA pickup on campus – to encourage CSA use and make it easy for CSA farmers to have a possible large base of customers. This might be a practical idea for other large employers. Some of the CSA farmers allow more choice and have extra products like honey or jam to choose instead if there are no vegetables you like that week.
I can’t wait until we can move to a place where we can sign up for a CSA subscription! I live in big agriculture country and they’re sadly not readily available because everyone is focused on growing lots of corn and beef and wheat. Soon enough!
I LOVE THIS POST. I had never heard of CSAs before, and yet I feel like CSAs are the completely natural thing to do. I immediately looked up a local CSA and we will be ordering from them as soon as we move. Very excited and reasonably priced. Good way to minimize waste and eat healthier–all things I can jump for joy about.
Yay I’m glad my story has inspired others to check out their CSAs! 🙂
I love our CSA! It really is like Christmas every week. As a result, I’ve totally embraced seasonal eating. Unfortunately, late spring is a bit of a veggie drought. We’re nearing the bottom of our frozen stores from last summer, and our share doesn’t start for another month. When it starts, it will be salads out the wazzoo for a month. I’ll eat salads twice a day until all the lettuce/greens are gone and the summer produce comes in. Then I barely touch salads for the rest of the year. 😀
We signed up for one this year and I cannot wait for mid-June (when it starts)! We’ll still be picking up other stuff from our local farmer’s market. A rad thing about ours is that they set it up with a local food co-op to accept food stamps for payment.
There are very few CSAs in my area (lots of “organic produce delivery” services I can find, but very that connects farmers directly to consumers), but I want to be part of a CSA so desperately! (Sydneysiders, any suggestions? I figure there might be some that don’t have a web presence…)
Also, Kaeru? That nabe you posted? IT NEEDS TO BE IN MY BELLY. NOW. *drool*
Oh, sorry, Kairu. SPELLING IS HARD 😛
Aww thanks! I love nabe so much. I swear it’s my go to meal when I have lots of vegetables and am feeling too lazy to cook haha.
My father-in-law does CSA. We only get over to England in the summer and it’s such fun to open the box and explore each week. It’s certainly something I’ll consider doing when we move back to America.
Does anyone know of one of these for South Australia? I would love to be involved in one, but I can’t find anything online for Australia!
Here’s one in Adelaide: http://www.foodconnectadelaide.com.au/?page_id=1702
Try googling near by cities + “community supported agriculture” or “csa” or “farm box” or “farm share” etc
Also, try searching here: http://www.organicfooddirectory.com.au/
That site has just about nothing on it, at least for my particular corner of Sydney Metro. T_T
As someone who organized my local CSA for a couple years, I would add a few things to the list:
– The veggies might not look pretty, but they taste amazing. If you are the kind of person who will get your box and then go to the farmer’s market and complain about how the veggies at the stand looked some much nicer, it’s not really for you. A lot of food today is grown for looks and not taste. Heirloom tomatoes are kind of ugly … and the most amazing tasting food EVER!
– If you are uncool with dirt — like lots of dirt — on your food or having a worm in your bunch of sweet corn, then a CSA is not for you. But to me, this is a reminder that this is where my food comes from — the earth, the dirt.
Dina, i’m in the same boat as you. I’m on the Central Coast, NSW. I don’t think i have a hope of finding anything like this. I’ll have to be happy with the one organic fruit & veg stall they have at the weekly markets near my work which i buy a bag or 2 of produce from and carry it home on the train!
We have a “farmer’s market” that meets near my house, but it looks to me like most of it has come from the fruit markets. :/ Frustrating!
I’m so excited to see a post on CSAs here! A roommate & I tried to have a CSA in college when we first heard about them, but when too many veggies committed suicide in our fridge, we knew we weren’t ready. Skip 7 years into the future and my guy & I signed up for a local box, based mostly on which pickup was closest to us at the time. We LOVE LOVE LOVE getting different stuff every week, and I’ve learned to be creative about using things up.
My favorite trick for spring veggies: quiche. Saute up the masses of spring onions, steam the asparagus, wilt the kale, maybe throw in some sausage, plop it all in a pie crust, pour some eggs & milk over it, and woila – breakfast for the week.
this is really cool. i already found one in my area searching csa
Awesome! We partake in something similar called Bountiful Baskets. We get a huge amount of fruits and veggies; so much so that my neighbor and I alternate weeks of buying (15 for regular produce and 25 for organic) and just split the spoils at each pickup on Saturday.
They are run entirely with volunteers so its a fun way to get our and meet people. I’m new in my area so that is especially nice for me.
I’m so excited! We paid into a local CSA in January, and it’s only a few more weeks until we start seeing the goodies! I love being able to support a local family and reading their blog is a ton of fun too.
I want to do this SO much, but unfortunately being a single omnivore kind of gal, even a half-share (the smallest portion I can get in these parts) is too much for me. If I’m still in this area next year, I hope to find someone to split it with!
My husband and I get our box from Ignatius Farm, which is part of a centre run out of an old Jesuit College. It’s an amazing place. In addition to the farm, they have trails, a project dedicated to restoring an old growth forest to the property, and a retreat centre.
It is great to see so many people excited about CSA’s. I have always loved the idea of community produced food and I am lucky to be the wife of an organic farmer who works at a neighborhood farm that hosts a CSA. Pick-up days are my favorite days to visit the farm because everyone is so excited to see what is fresh for that week and sharing recipes and smiles. Although I am on the periphery it is great to be involved in such a great community.