CSAs--Each year at this time I try to decide whether joining one would be "worth it". I like the idea of supporting local farmers, and the challenge of cooking with different things, but the closest one is 35 miles away, making that a 70 mile round trip for me each Saturday during the season. For those of you who belong (or don't)--why/why not?

  • Posted by: mklug
  • December 9, 2010


RobertaJ December 11, 2010
I just joined a CSA about 2 months ago, then had them sort of go dormant when our weather freaked out and killed their winter crop (110° temps will do that....). The couple of boxes I got, I LOVED, and I loved the challenge of the unexpected. It was like an exercise in creativity. I made a vow I would cook whatever I got, whether it was something I *liked* or not. We'll see how that goes when it picks up again next week, now that their crops have recovered. But what I saw I liked, and I'm excited to have it available again.

That said. It's very local to me. The pickup spot is only about 5 miles from my house. That was a big consideration, why I chose the CSA I eventually ended up with. It just didn't make sense to me to drive in Southern California traffic to get stuff I could get at the local MegaMart. Even though that produce had likely come longer distances, the economy of scale (and the carbon footprint) to transport a truckload of apples was certainly more skewed toward the truckload than to me putting along in gridlock in my small SUV. I'm also very lucky, in that I have several good farmers' markets very local to me, and really excellent grocery stores. If the CSA were further away than it is, given my other options, I don't think I'd go for it.

But. If I were out in the boonies, and it was a good schlep to wherever I was going to get my produce, that would be another matter. In a megalopolis like I'm in, if it's close, I'll support it (and mine happens to be a community service project as well, a double bonus).

Gardening? A wonderful idea, but not do-able for all of us. I'm disabled, and can't work the ground. If I had raised beds, might be a different matter, but I really don't have the money/space for them. I'd love to grow my own, but will have to search out the best alternatives to that. For right now, a mix of CSA/farmers' market/MegaMart seems to be the best option.
Midge December 10, 2010
Thanks fiveandspice!Wow, the veg/fruit/egg/flowers package sounds tempting.
fiveandspice December 9, 2010
Midge, I belong to Chestnut farms for meat and Red Fire Farm for vegetables. Red Fire is taking members for next season right now, if you want to sign up! I've also belonged to Shared Harvest and World Peas CSAs, both of which were great, but I just really love Red Fire.
iuzzini December 9, 2010
I definitely support growing your own produce if at all possible- even container gardening can provide loads of delicious vegetables- and your favorites I might add! It's so much fun to set up and nurture and harvest! Planted my first garden this past summer and it was amazing how precious I thought each little tomato, pepper, cucumber, and basil leaf etc. was! Then you can supplement from local farm stands etc. if they exist by you . ..I like the idea of CSA but sometimes it ends up seeming a little frustrating when you have to revolve a weekend day around picking it up . . .
Midge December 9, 2010
I love the way you laid that out, betteirene. And fiveandspice, curious which CSAs you belong to? All of them were full by the time I got around to it last spring...
aussiefoodie December 9, 2010
I love my local CSA, but being around on a Saturday to pick up my box is sometimes a challenge. Funnily enough I live in the central valley of California - one of the most productive areas in the country for fruit and vegetables, but finding good quality, fresh, organic and sometimes unusual fresh produce can sometimes be difficult in my town. So I've grouped together with some friends, and we take turns picking up each other's box each week. While being green is one reason to belong to a CSA (my husband supports that reason), I like it for the diversity, quality, freshness and good value - I often get items that I might not have bought myself at the grocery store, and just working out what I'm going to cook with it is half the fun!

Check out this website Local Harvest - for a local CSA finder
susan G. December 9, 2010
We were CSA members and loved what they do and the bounty we got. But we are only 2, and even a 1/2 share was a lot for us. The same farmers are at our local farmers market where we can match our consumption and taste and summer schedule uncertainties. If you have that choice, you can "thank a farmer" on your own terms.
betteirene December 9, 2010
Not so fast. . .Yes, the food is worth it. Yes, the CSA philosophy is wonderful and should be supported. But that 70-mile round trip doesn't make it easy to be green and eat greens, does it?

Only you know yourself. What's your work/family/volunteer/personal schedule like and do you have a lot of money? Are you willing to give up two hours on summer Saturdays when you could be swimming or mowing the lawn? How many times during the summer will you forfeit your bounty because you had to get your hair done, someone was calling you back to bed, the kids were invited to a birthday party? Cancel three times and those beautiful tomatoes in August could end up costing $8 a pound or more.

Are you disciplined enough and can you squeeze in extra time to do something with a half bushel of rainbow Swiss chard on that paticular Saturday, and not put it off until you have more time a day or two later? Do you have freezer space? No? Do you feel like eating Swiss chard every meal before it rots? What if you get the chard, plus turnip greens and baby bok choy and leaf lettuce all at the same time? We all want tons of tomatoes in August, but what if the summer was too cool and wet for sandwich tomatoes and you get only ounces of cherry tomatoes? You'll find that you're still making side trips to the grocery store or the farmer's market. Bummer. But yippee! You've got kale! Next week, too! And the week after that, again! Whoohoo!

Even if I didn't grown my own kale and Swiss chard and bok choy and zucchini (with its endless growing season), that 70-mile round trip sure dampens my zeal for the unbeatable freshness of the produce and the America-the-Beautiful-gloriousness of the CSA philosophy.

Here are other options for you: Many CSA growers also have stalls at local farmer's markets. Their gas-per-ounce of produce is cheaper than yours is. It doesn't matter where you make the purchase--you're still supporting them, and you won't be stuck paying for or dealing with a half-bushel of Swiss chard unless you really want to.

Go to Craigslist.org and see if there's someone willing to share their garden with you. Here in Seattle, there are formal yard-sharing programs in some neighborhoods, where you do the growing in someone else's yard.

Or, if you have the yard, offer to purchase the seeds and to split the bounty with someone who's willing to do all the work.

See if your community rents garden plots to residents. Grow your own. Give the excess to your local food bank, and to your neighbor whose unemployment benefits ran out last week, and to a friend who you know will appreciate that beautiful homegrown, organic heirloom Brandywine tomato.

Any way you choose, you'll be green, you'll be eating healthy, fresh food and you'll be sending a message to corporate America that you hate tasteless tomatoes and aren't going to take it any more.

drbabs December 9, 2010
I love our CSA, too, and feel like every week I'm getting a special gift. I live on Long Island, and there are so many people in our community who participate, that the farm (45 miles away) has local drop-off points that you sign up for. Every week they have a truck make deliveries to the drop off points which are much more conveniently located--of course they are heading to NY City so it works for them to have CSA customers along the way. Could you get enough people together that the farm would be able to do drop offs maybe half way? There are only 2 of us also, and we shared with another couple this year. Having said that, we actually didn't sign up for a winter share because we would have to shlep into Queens which is really not time- or cost-effective. If you want to know more about this, the CSA we use is www.goldenearthworm.com and Matthew, the farmer who owns it, is terrific and would probably happily answer any questions you have.
mklug December 9, 2010
Allie--that is definately part of the analysis for me--that is the closest CSA, and I'm sure I could work with others to minimize the trips' impact, but still...
allie December 9, 2010
One thought: I would factor in the 70 mile trip into the analysis of whether this is a good decision environmentally. If there's a closer farmers market/farm/etc you may just want to talk to individual farmers and see if you can arrange something.
Nora December 9, 2010
I wonder if you could find one or two other people to join and take turns making the roundtrip run.
usuba D. December 9, 2010
If you were to go to Ballymaloe cooking school and take their 12 week course, you would spend the first few weeks just working in the garden and learning not only where food comes from, but receiving a real education on what it takes to get that food. I have always believe that the farmer is the heart and soul of our existence (you would not be alive without food), but yet is never fully honoured for what they provide for us everyday . . we take it for granted.
A CSA is a great why to get closer to the farmer, especially if you involve your children and you volunteer to get your hands dirty and participate in the CSA. It also can be a wonderful social event.

SO, Yes, it is worth it.
fiveandspice December 9, 2010
Where you live and the quality of the local farms definitely would affect the "worth it"-ness of joining the CSA. And ultimately it sounds like you'll have to decide how much of a hassel that trip would be for you. But, I can tell you from my experience, I absolutely ADORE my CSA! I have one for produce and another one for meat. Sometimes it is a struggle making it through the quantity in a full share since there is just two of us, but shares can also be split amongst friends, if that is an issue. Even beyond the fact that supporting local, diversified farms (as long as they're responsible - local unfortunately does not always mean the same thing as ecologically and socially responsible, though it increases the chances it will be) is an issue I'm passionate about, I have found that the food tastes much, much better and fresher. If you're up for having to spontaneously create things from the variety of produce that gets handed to you, then it's a really fun adventure and can help you learn a lot about new kinds of vegetables or even force you to try new things with familiar ones. I've also loved getting to meet and socialize with the farmers and the other CSA members at the pick ups. A little community has formed around the CSA, and the farmers frequently invite everyone out to the fields to celebrate various parts of the harvest. So, that's just my particular experience with a CSA. Good luck with your decision!
pierino December 9, 2010
This is a great question and I'm with you on the 70 mile round trip. From where I live now I often have to confront that drain on my day. Also, you need to consider that you may not know what will be in your box but still be nimble enough to use it all. I wish it were simpler.
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