Deal of the Week: Join a CSA

All over the green blogosphere is the same advice: Join a CSA.

I think they’re right. A CSA (community-supported agriculture) program provides the best of all worlds to the most people. Consumers pay an annual fee to a farm. A small, local, usually organic farmer receives predictable annual income from the subscription and a guaranteed market for his/her produce. The consumers receive a weekly shipment of in-season, local produce — some in the summer, some year-round — as well as the joy of supporting local agriculture.

But it’s easier said than done.

When we lived in Brooklyn, we subscribed to a service called Urban Organic that brought us a box of delicious organic produce every other week, right to our door. It expanded our culinary range by forcing us to cook things we never knew about — like my very first butternut squash! But it wasn’t related to a specific, local farm.
Still, a couple of years ago, we were thrilled to find a similar service had launched in Denver. We used Door to Door Organics for a little while. In fact, now my daughter’s school has arranged a co-op with them, which would be oh-so-convenient. But their produce often wasn’t so fresh, and they were really mean to me and, separately, to a friend, when we complained about service problems. It’s a fantastic idea, and I notice that their contact people have changed, so maybe Door to Door has cleaned up its act … but I was burned on them.

So I returned to the idea of finding a CSA. At various times, we’ve even been interested in a work share, in which you get a discount on your produce in exchange for some labor on the farm. Most CSAs charge around $600 a year or $400 per summer season for enough veggies to feed two adults or a family of four all year. $50 a month doesn’t seem bad for local, organic produce — and in these parts, preserving open farmland is an added boon.

This past fall, I contacted Denver Urban Gardens about their CSA and received vague, nonprofit-y assurances that we would be contacted when enrollment starts. Their comments came with assurances that their CSA “isn’t like other CSAs” and that we would have to work for our veggies. I didn’t go into details that we do have some experience with dirt and compost, but my hopes are modest.

But other area CSAs look to be booked up. I am placing calls to try to find one that has an eensy, weensy spot for us to fit in. If you are interested in a CSA, click at Local Harvest to find CSAs near you. Note that if you’re on the East Coast, your odds are exponentially greater.

The good news is that in Web surfing, I also found some good sources for locally raised, organic or natural, humanely treated meat. We don’t eat much meat around here, but I’ve noticed that we’re happier when we eat some. But our daughter pushed away chicken the other night because it wasn’t treated well, and we’re hoping to permanently make the switch to clean meat. And prices are excellent on humane meat — a side of beef (half a cow/steer) runs $2.05 a pound plus processing, far below the standard for natural meat at the grocery store.

Wish us luck – and please update us on what you’ve found in terms of local food.

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4 thoughts on “Deal of the Week: Join a CSA

  1. L'an says:

    I was a member of a CSA for a while–and I really loved the fresh organic produce throughout the year. It definitely introduced us to some new veggies (and made me much more appreciative of the more aggressive greens–kale, mustard, etc).

    Unfortunately, there were drawbacks.

    We could only collect our veggies after noon on Saturdays. Since we never knew what we were going to get in our weekly disbursement until we went to pick it up, this meant we could never hit the area farmer’s markets (which tend to be held on Saturday mornings) to supplement whatever we got from the CSA–leaving us heading to the (not local, not particularly organic) grocery instead. It also complicated our meal planning, since we usually tried to do all the big grocery shopping as early in the weekend as possible.

    After a while, because sometimes people wouldn’t pick up their share and it was left to rot on the porch of the distribution house, the folks who generously sponsored this distribution site let everyone know that any veggies that hadn’t been picked up within a certain span of time would be taken to a local homeless shelter. While I applauded this proactive redirection of food that would otherwise have gone to waste, it was also a bit of a pain: if we ever wanted to go to the mountains for the day or out of town for the weekend, we had to coordinate with someone who could pick up the veggies for us during the designated time. And I thought finding people to cat-sit was hard!

    We could weigh in on what we’d like to see included in the veggie selection, but as newcomers to an established CSA, we were fighting against a core group of people with very established and fairly particular tastes. Some folks may go ga-ga over fermented veggies and black radishes the size of a two-year-old’s leg, but I noticed that I wasn’t the only subscriber who stopped collecting her fair share of these acquired-taste delicacies after several weeks.

    And somehow, despite (or perhaps because of?) the adventurous culinary offerings, we rarely got the classics, like peas in the spring, or tomatoes in the height of summer. Weeks would go by when the bulk of our share consisted of parsley, cilantro, and purslane–the latter of which grew abundantly in the weedy corners of my own yard.

    We decided a few years ago that this particular CSA wasn’t worth it… and have been looking for a new one ever since (running into the same problems you’ve had.) I’ve heard of farmers setting up CSAs so you can pick up your box from their stand at a local farmer’s market, and perhaps that’s an option we should explore next. Unfortunately, I think the Farmer’s Markets in the Denver area all shut down by the end of October, don’t they?

    Good luck–to all of us!–in finding good local organic food!

  2. importer says:

    I have looked for a CSA here in Loveland, Co, found one last year, only to find they closed up and moved to Arkansas this spring!

    I have been trying to support the local vegetable stands, that seems to work pretty well, and my granddaughter loves to poke around in all the corners. The one I use the most says they will stay open thru the holidays, but last year they closed shortly after Halloween.

    I am looking for a locally grown turkey for the holiday, but am not having much luck. Any suggestions?

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