You Can Never Get Too Fresh

Allison Kade
Posted

appleEven if you’ve never heard of a CSA, ten bucks says that you’ve got at least one hipster friend who’s already a member. Here’s why you should consider jumping on the bandwagon:

The Problem.

You are busy, health-conscious, and money-savvy. Oh, and hungry.

The Solution.

Join a CSA, which stands for “community-supported agriculture” (even though it’s used as a specific noun). You’ll sign up to receive fresh, local produce every week for a whole season. The vegetables and fruit, usually local and organic, are fresher and cheaper than they would be at a regular grocery store.

The Action.

strawberriesSearch Local Harvest to find a CSA near you. It features listings all around the country, so don’t be put off if some of the search results sound a little off-the-beaten path—the site displays the location of the farms in the main search results. Those results probably showed up for your search because there’s a drop-off location near you, so click through to find out where it is. What’s more, many CSAs even deliver.

Check out the math: We know of a CSA in Manhattan that costs $500 for a 22-week membership (about $20 per week). The share feeds three to four people, so if we went in with three friends, we’d each pay less than $7 per week for awesome, fresh vegetables.

Most memberships provide enough vegetables to feed three or four adults each week; if that’s overkill, you can often buy a half-share for one or two people. In our experience, half-shares are usually slightly more than half the price. All the same, we find that CSA portions are often bigger than we expect. Summer shares are generally lighter, with a lot of mixed greens, whereas autumn shares tend to be heftier and contain large squashes and root vegetables.

vegEach week, you’ll receive whatever’s fresh on the farm, often up to ten different vegetables each week. We love the grab bag: We’re simultaneously indecisive and excited to learn about new foods. Some CSAs deliver more than produce, too. Many sell meat and eggs in addition to distributing produce. There are even CSAs that only distribute grass-fed organic meat.

Why is this financially savvy? The main idea is to cut out the middle man, allowing regular people to buy healthy, organic food at reasonable prices. CSAs give you access to an excellent assortment of produce and hefty portions (for non-hefty prices). What’s more, you’ll support the local economy and avoid trips to the grocer! If Local Harvest doesn’t turn up any CSAs near your home, use it to find farmers markets, instead.

Eating healthily and supporting local agriculture has never been more stylish.

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  • KC

    We tried it last year, and the contents of the box cost more than twice as much as if we’d bought them at the farmers market near home. So it’s definitely not the cheapest way to get fresh produce.

    Furthermore, although we could specify no onions (I’m allergic to them), there was no way to place an order for specific items, so I wound up going to the farmers market anyway to get the things I needed, rather than the things they wanted to sell me.

    Every week, we got a bunch of basil. Why not different herbs every week? Since they never sent any tomatoes to cook it with, and we’re not fond of pesto, we wound up throwing out most of the basil. Similarly, the only way for two people to eat as many peppers as they put in the box would be to serve stuffed peppers for dinner a couple times a week, every week, and we’re simply not that fond of stuffed peppers. One or two a week, fine, but not six or eight peppers for two people! Meanwhile, carrots and lettuce (which I would serve several times a week) only appeared in the box once during our trial subscription, and tomatoes never did. One week, the box was almost all fruit; I had to go to the farmers market for veggies to serve with dinner.

    Succinctly, I expected a much better variety and rotation of that variety. Instead, it looked like what they put in the box was whatever they had an excess of after selling at the farmers market, rather than quantities and varieties suitable to the way people would shop for themselves.

    They also included recipes, which was nice, but never everything requires to make those recipes. Here’s a recipe for mint-melon salad, but the box included only one of the four varieties of melon and no mint, so the recipe was useless.

    • The LearnVest Staff

      Hi KC,

      That’s really disappointing. Where are you located/where was this CSA? Certainly, not all CSAs are awesome. If there’s somewhere to review it, we’d recommend that you do so. We have a lot of friends who’ve taken part in CSAs around the country and most of them are pretty happy, though the biggest complaint was that the quantity was too large (which is why it makes sense to go in with a few people). Sorry to hear about your bad experience, but thanks for sharing it with us!

  • Katie Ferrari

    Another good CSA-finding resource is http://www.justfood.org. Also check out the Eat Local Challenge for inspiration :)  http://www.eatlocalchallenge.com/2007/03/announcing_the_.html