The CSA Craze: Is It Really Worth the Money?

Posted

CSA CrazeIf you’re alive and eat vegetables, chances are that you’ve heard someone buzzing about his or her share in a CSA.

The movement of buying foods direct from local farms has been on the rise for the past few years as America on the whole has become more focused on eating local.

CSAs first gained traction in the early 2000s. Between 2004 and 2009, the number of community-supported agriculture programs grew by an astounding 114 percent!

So while there’s no disputing that they’re a bona fide food trend, are CSAs actually good for your wallet or just a popular way to buy more organic vegetables than one human could possibly eat?

LearnVest explores how CSAs work … and whether one is likely to work for you.

What Is a CSA, Anyway?

CSA, which stands for “Community Supported Agriculture,” is a way for a group of people to collectively purchase products from a local farm. Shares can be paid for in cash or labor, but they generally rely on a combination of both. For example, you might pay a flat fee for a 20-week share in a CSA, as well as commit to helping pass out shares one or two weekends during the season.

CSAs typically offer shares twice a year: The summer share lasts from approximately May through August, and the fall share runs from September through November. Some CSAs are even starting to offer year-round programs by adding in winter seasons that run from January to March, depending on each farm’s climate and setup.

When most people think of a CSA, they picture local fruits and veggies, but that’s not always the case. CSAs across the country also serve up meat, dairy, flowers, herbs, bread, cheese, coffee, honey—even seafood and soaps. Want to locate a share in your area? LocalHarvest, a website that spotlights organic and local food, has a listing of CSAs across the nation that are searchable by city and state.

What a Share Costs—and What You’ll Get

While prices will vary depending on where you call home, most CSAs base their fee structure on the size of the share that you select, the amount of produce (or goods) bundled into the share, and whether you offset the cost through work at the cooperative. Groups of friends—and even entire offices—may also split shares (or half shares) to help whittle down their individual bills.

RELATED: How to Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half

  • JEM

    The definition of CSA came so far down the article, I lost interest. It’s poor form to start a conversation like that, in my opinion. I only stumbled across the definition as I moved down the page to look for the Comments section. Didn’t English teachers used to recommend telling the high points in the first SENTENCE? Has that advice changed?

    • Mark

      The definition is in the 6th paragraph on page 1. Took me at least a minute to read that far.

    • Bobbi H

      Actually, if you’re able to read from context, the words community-supported agriculture do appear higher in the article than you noticed–in paragraph 3. I agree, still not the first paragraph, which would have been easier…but earlier than you’re giving the author credit for.

  • Amanda George

    Thank you for this article! I have been having conversations about CSA’s for several weeks now, trying to decide if it’s right for my husband and me. We buy so much produce as it is and would love for it to be local. I’m having a hard time locating one in my area where the pick-up time is convenient, so I’m thinking about going in on one with a friend or relative who could pick it up.

  • Stephanie

    I’ve belonged to one for several years- some of the best money I spend on food. I’ve discovered what are now some of my favorite veggies this way, and the idea of supporting local, organic farms is incredibly appealing to me. I never have trouble finding someone to use what I can’t, and even with giving stuff away it’s still wayyy cheaper, and better quality than a grocery store!

  • Leta

    I found I wasn’t using the food as fast as it came in, so I decided that anything left over on Sunday became soup.

    Meal planning is definitely easier when I had a *lot* of potatoes and green beans in the kitchen and I didn’t know what dinner would be specifically but knew that it would involve both of those veggies.

  • Lyn

    We have one in my area that works a little differently, I like it…you pay a flat weekly rate & you get a certain number of ‘points’…you then shop each week on-line using your points, then they deliver what you chose for the week…so if you have someone that won’t eat squash for instance, you don’t have to worry about getting one in your box…but you can also get the variety box option for those that are adventurous and like to try new types of produce. They also have meats, canned goods, soap, etc.

  • Stefanie

    I’ve wanted to join a CSA for ages, but the nature of my job requires me to have to leave town for extended periods of time with little notice. I wish there were a way to join even on a month to month basis.

  • Joanne

    We have belonged to a CSA for 14 years. We have 3 in our area. They each are run a little different.

    The CSA I belong to mentions what produce you can expect by week and by season. They have an exchange box where you can put something in a box you may not like, but can choose something else.

    They also have recipes for produce every week that are sent in by subscribers to give ideas of preparation. We are given the opportunity to purchase an egg share, a bread share, and meat.

    I just put in an order for fruit: sweet cherries and blueberries. Later in the year will be other opportunities for extra vegetables and fruit. Since we have learned how to eat the different kinds of produce, this has been a great investment, organic or not.

  • veronica

    I have been a CSA member for 8 years and I love it. The one I am currently part of sends an email at the beginning of the week listing what will be in this week’s harvest so that we know what to expect and can do our weekly shopping with the CSA boxes contents in mind. They also send a recipe of the week, just in case you don’t know what to do with certain vegetables, like rutabagas or tat soi greens.

  • K

    I really liked the idea of a CSA, so I got a “spring” share in one and was very disappointed. Perhaps I just got one at the wrong time of the year, but almost all of my boxes just contained several varieties of lettuce–swiss chard, kale, spinach, arugula, and nothing else. I found it very frustrating because what in the world could I possibly do with a mountain of greens and nothing else? So perhaps it’s best to contact the CSA first and ask what you can expect in your box.

  • John

    CSAs are they worth it for your wallet. It really depends on your particular CSA and your eating habits

    My CSA: This week my CSA had 1 Acorn Squash, 2 Broccoli crowns, 2 Sweet Red Bell Peppers, 5 Green & 3 Red Tomatoes, 1 bunch of Komotsuna Japanese mustard spinach, 1 bag of Lettuce Mix, 4 large Beets, 6 Hakurei Turnips, 15 Carrots, 2 Onions, and 1 bunch of Cilantro, all for about 25$. It gets delivered to my door for an extra $5 which is totally worth it because I don’t have a car and my time is definitely worth $5 an hour anyways (its also better for the environment for a driver to drive an optimized route to all the drop off spots than for everyone to drive out to the farm and back).

    *I use all my veggies because I am an adventurous eater and I know how to disguise veggies I am not very fond of. If you are not an adventurous veggie eater a CSA usually isn’t such a good idea

    *During non-peak seasons the shares are a tad smaller, and are more full of kale, root veggies and somewhat less desirable vegetables