rethinking the CSA

I originally wrote this post back in August of 2011 on a blog I ran called “Living From Scratch.” Back then I was a stay at home mom striving for many of the same things I’m striving for now – financial independence, a certain level of self-reliance, and an increased level of simplicity in our life. I’m reposting it now because, although it feels early to think about fresh-picked veggies, it won’t be long before it’s time to sign up if you choose.

I still feel the same way about CSAs as I did after this experience, but I’d love to hear about your experiences! Share them here or on Facebook!

The original post appears below.

For those that are unfamiliar, CSA is “community supported agriculture”. Basically, you buy a “share” of a farm and get boxes of veggies in return. There are also herd share programs for meat and milk, and I’m sure there are other incarnations as well. It’s a great idea and I was excited to join this summer. I’m having second thoughts now, however. 

For $400 we got a 1/2 share at a local, organic farm. Every week, for about 20 weeks, I go pick up a box of fresh, organic veggies. At the time, I thought it was a great deal. I figured that $20 a week was about what I spent at the farmer’s markets in the area and so this would simply replace that expenditure. Here’s where I run into issues. 

What’s the Deal?

First, the money I spent at the farmer’s market wasn’t just on veggies. I also bought fruit, eggs, grass-fed beef, veggie plants for my garden, mushrooms, local grain and even my favorite tortilla chips. None of those are included in my CSA box.

Second, there is no choice about what you receive. Sometimes you discover a great new veggie but, often, it means you get stuck trying to do something with a veggie that no one in the family likes much.  My CSA does have a swap bowl, but generally I find myself filling it with nothing in it to swap. This week I put lettuce and green peppers into the swap bowl which had nothing in it to swap. And while I’m excited for the onion I received, I use more than one onion in a week of cooking. I keep reading updates about all the wonderful veggies the Tuesday pick-ups are getting (okra, eggplant, etc) while, on Thursdays, I pick up a box with even more yellow squash.

Lastly, it comes every week whether you need it or not. Sure you can donate it or give it away, but the fact is, some weeks veggies go to waste because we’re gone for a day or two. 

Moving Forward

Next summer, I think I’m going to go back to my weekly farmer’s market trips. I can get whatever I need in whatever quantity I want. If I need something on Tuesday I can get it at one of the markets that are open on a non-weekend day.  At the farmer’s market, I will get more for my money and it will be exactly what I want. I would also like to be able to invest some of that money in the humane, organic, healthy meat that is available at the market. 

I love the concept of the CSA and it’s probably perfect for some families, just not mine.