For many years, I’ve wanted to be part of a CSA, Community Supported Agriculture, where I could get fresh and local produce each week. Maybe it’s my years in China, shopping at wet markets that makes me miss selecting farm-fresh produce. Although my town has a seasonal farmer’s market, the limited hours early Saturday morning never suited me. Eventually I got serious about joining a CSA and finally found one that delivers relatively close to my home. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve already seen a lot of my photos of my weekly shares.
Being part of a CSA means I’m supporting local agriculture by purchasing a share of vegetables from a regional farmer. Some CSAs have add-ons like eggs, bread, cheese, flowers, honey, and meat as well.
After being part of Bring it Food Hub this summer, I realize what a great fit it is for an adventurous homeschool family.
New Fruits and Vegetables
We homeschoolers are known for making everything a lesson! With a CSA, your food becomes a lesson in nutrition, world cuisines, and horticulture.
Kohlrabi, anyone? What in the world is that alien looking vegetable? I consider myself fairly veggie-literate, but since joining a CSA, I’ve had quite a few selections that I had never eaten or even seen for that matter! It’s fun to experiment and discover new foods.
Your weekly share becomes a homeschool lesson in itself as you identify, taste, and find recipes for the produce you receive. There are sure to be items in your share that you would have never considered buying even if they are on your grocery store shelves. But once they are in your kitchen, if you are like me, you suddenly feel inspired to create a yummy dish or beverage with them.
Remember how in nutrition class — back when they still taught us that faulty food pyramid — they always said that variety was a benchmark of a healthy diet? That part is still true! There are so many nutrients hidden in foods, and when we get in eating ruts, we miss out on different combinations of vitamins and minerals. I can promise that if you join a CSA, you will eat more variety!
If eating more vegetables is one of your goals, signing up for a CSA will ensure that they get into your home if nothing else. It’s up to you to prepare and eat them, but a CSA is an effective way to make sure you have a steady supply of local produce.
You may know what sage is, but have you ever cooked with fresh sage? I hadn’t until I got some in my share. What about lemongrass, eggplant, or kale? Okay, kale is really popular, but I’d never had a kale smoothie until I had an abundance of kale on my hands from a weekly share. So there may be plenty of fruits, vegetables, and herbs that you recognize but you’ve never actually used in their fresh form.
Or there may be things you like but don’t typically see in your local grocery — green tomatoes, fennel, or purple carrots, for example.
If cooking is enjoyable to you, joining a CSA can inject new excitement into your kitchen routine. I truly look forward to my weekly share and can’t wait to see what’s in it. It’s like a weekly grocery grab bag!
Research and Problem Solving
If you have older kids who love to help in the kitchen or you are adventurous yourself, a CSA becomes a fun family project to investigate and solve:
- How can we use a pound of tiny eggplant before they go bad and we get next week’s share?
- What’s the best way to prepare fresh lemon grass? What part of it do you use?
- How long will these carrots keep in the refrigerator? Is it best to remove the tops or leave them on?
- Why is the CSA celery darker, skinnier, and stronger tasting than the celery we get in the store? How can we use these leaves too?
- What recipes call for fresh sage or fresh basil?
- How can we preserve some of this so it doesn’t go to waste and we can eat it when we are ready?
- What other ways can we cook green tomatoes besides frying them?
Your first research project may be finding a CSA. Here are sites to help:
But a Google search will probably uncover the best CSA options for your area.
Who Should Avoid a CSA
Obviously, a CSA isn’t for everyone.
If you feel super stressed by meal planning and shopping, a CSA may actually add to your burden as you’ll be researching new foods and the recipes to use them.
If you are extremely rigid with meal planning, a CSA may feel like an intrusion. Depending on how much food you receive, your CSA may become the deciding factor in your meal planning and shopping. My CSA sends emails on Tuesday with hints about what I’ll get on Thursday, but it’s a very tentative list, and I can’t rely on it to be 100% accurate.
If you have a family of mostly picky eaters who aren’t adventurous with trying new things, you are probably going to throw away one third to half of your weekly shares. And there may be frustration along the way as you serve foods no one will eat.
Families who eat out a lot may feel a CSA is a waste. This may go without saying, but on the weeks that I ate out often, it was hard to consume my share.
If your food budget is very limited, a CSA may be too costly for you. It’s not cheap. And you are making a commitment that you can’t skip for a week or two when you need to eat “beans and rice” while you funnel some of your food budget to unexpected expenses.
Have you ever subscribed to a CSA? What was your experience?
We were a part of a CSA last year in VA. We loved it! Every week we went to the farm and got to pick different fruits and vegetables. It was a great experience. We are still looking for a cost effective CSA in WA.