CSAs 101

CSAs 101

On the third Wednesday of each month, Team Green Adventures partners with the Nashville Farmers’ Market to host different Nutrition Workshop topics about seasonality. This month, CSAs are in season.

What does that mean?

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and they are currently “in season” because right now is the time of year when local farmers are planting for the Spring growing season. Community Supported Agriculture programs are membership-based purchase plans in which consumers directly support the farm by helping to cover the upfront costs of farming. In return, the farmer shares the bounty of their farm with their CSA members BEFORE allocating produce to sell at Farmers’ Markets or grocery stores. Each farm has their own unique farming practices and offer different CSA features, so it’s best to speak with the farmer before investing in their CSA.

Below are a few key questions you’ll want to ask:

What type of CSA do you offer?
Farms can offer either produce, fruit, meat, egg or flower CSAs, and some include a little of each in their shares. Some farms are USDA Certified Organic, like Delvin Farms and Eaton’s Creek Organics, while others use organic or biodynamic practices, but haven’t gone through the certification process. Most farms are family run single farms, while some CSAs are “farm co-ops,” like Avalon Acres, meaning that multiple farms in the area contribute to the shares.

Where are your drop off locations?
Some farms have weekly drop-offs in public areas like Farmers’ Markets or parks, while others will work directly with corporations to make those businesses an official drop-off location (if enough employees invest in their CSA). Typically, when you sign up for a CSA, you sign up for a specific drop-off date/time/location, and that’s your committed location during the entire growing season. Ask your farmer what happens if you miss your pick up time or will be out of town on your pick up date.

How long is your growing season?
Most CSAs programs last from May through October (about 22 weeks), but some only last for 3 months at a time and ask you to renew each season. Some farms also offer Winter CSAs. Before you decide that a CSA program is too expensive, remember to divide their sticker price by the number of weeks in their growing season. On average, it’ll come to about $25-$35 per week, depending on the size of their share, and whether or not you decide to add eggs or meat to your package (if available).

What are your share size options?
A “share” is the box of goods you receive each week. A full share is often promoted as “enough food to feed a family of 4 per week.” Keep in mind that farmers are big on eating their veggies, whereas your family might not be. In my experience, a full share each week can really feed a family of 5-6 with teenage kids! If your family is smaller and not accustomed to eating vegetables, a full share might end up being too much food per week. Consider a smaller share, or find a neighbor or co-workers to split your share with. Remember, the NUMBER ONE reason that individuals cancel their CSA is because they get TOO MUCH food, and feel they’re wasting both food and money.

CSA box green door gourmet
(Image from Green Door Gourmet Farm)

If a farm offers a “half share” be sure to ask what that means. It could mean you get a full share every other week, or it could mean you get a half-sized share each week. If you’re getting a full share every other week, make sure you have the right types of containers to keep your produce fresh for two full weeks. We’ll have a Nutrition Workshop: Preserves & Preservation on July 15th!

A quarter share option is very rare, but probably the best package to feed just 2 adults for a week.

Because meats can be frozen, some meat CSA farmers will only distribute their shares a few times per month.

Where is your farm located?
Don’t make the assumption that just because a farm makes drop-offs in Nashville that they’re a local farm. Also, don’t make the assumption that just because the farm is isn’t local that it’s not worth investing in. Some of the farmers who attended our CSA Fair came from Georgia and Kentucky. Tennessee is a skinny state, so farms from other states might still only be a few hours away. However, if you’re purchasing a CSA because you want your food to contain local nutrients, or if you care about a smaller carbon footprint, this is definitely a question worth considering.

Where does my CSA money go?
Yes. A majority of the money will cover the cost of equipment, labor, seeds, and fuel to transport the shares, but some farms go a step further and give proceeds to a causes their family farm believes in, like Chop Wood Carry Water Farm which uses its CSA program to help fund retreats for individuals with autism, post-traumatic stress disorders, or cancer. There are also very high costs associated with maintaining USDA Organic certification. So, if the cost of a CSA seems a lot higher than other CSAs you’ve researched, ask why!

Who works on your farm?
For some farms this is a question they’ll take a lot of pride in answering, especially if they are fully family-run farm, like Bountiful Blessings Farm or if they use their farm as an educational employment opportunity for individuals with intellectual disabilities, like Old School Farm.

Does your farm have a blog or newsletter?
Produce-centric CSA programs will include the staple in-season foods like peppers, tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, herbs, greens, cucumbers, beets, and squash… but they might also sprinkle in unique treasures like heirloom white carrots, purple tomatoes, garlic scapes, ocra or chard. If you’re not already familiar with these other treasures, you might find yourself completely clueless when it comes to cooking them! That’s where the farm blog or newsletter comes in handy. Some farmers will take pictures and share recipes on their blog to help you out.


WHAT’S NEXT?

Once you’ve chosen your farm, finalized your CSA package type, payment plan and pick up location, it’s time to get into the mind-set of a CSA member. You don’t want to find yourself drowning in rotting vegetables!

Below are few key tips that have helped me be most productive with my produce:

  1. Make your CSA Pick-up day your preparation day. These farmers work from morning till night to provide you with great quality local food, so show them the same respect by taking the time to properly store your produce for longer- lasting freshness. After you take your CSA share home, wash each item carefully. I like to fill a large pot with luke-warm water and a splash of white vinegar to help kill bacteria or spores that will cause the food to rot more quickly. Also, remove the sections of the vegetables you don’t need (like corn husks or the leafy green parts of carrots, beets, and celery), and properly store them.
  2. Invest in produce storage containers, like the Rubbermaid Produce Containers, which have a tray on the bottom to collect moisture and slits in the lid to allow for air flow. This container will keep a batch of kale or lettuce fresh for up to two weeks, after you thoroughly wash it and cut away the “questionable” pieces.
    rubbermaid
  3. Take inventory of your ingredients, and make a meal plan for the week. Reference cookbooks, farm blogs, or AllRecipes.com to find recipes using the ingredients you have. Then make a list of secondary ingredients (like pasta, milk, bread, and seasonings) to pick up from the grocery store. This way you’ll make full use of your CSA share, and only buy extra ingredients that you know you’ll need.
  4. Invest in a crockpot. If you don’t have one, get one! It’ll change your life.
  5. Pre-chop your vegetables before storing them, especially if you’re an already busy person. This makes it easier to add into recipes throughout the week. You can learn more about meal planning on a busy schedule during our Nutrition Workshop: Nutrition on the Go on Wednesday, April 15th!
  6. Make smoothies! You can easily add spinach, kale, carrots, and celery to ANY smoothie recipe without realizing you’re eating vegetables. Beets and sweet potatoes can also go into fruit smoothies, if you’re OK with the fiber-heavy consistency.

For a full list of local farms, pick up the Local Table Magazine at any of these fine locations!

-Keeley (Team Green’s Director)

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