Eating,  Other Writings

How to Choose a CSA

CSA GuideMinnesota may be covered in 10+ inches of fresh new snow, but local farmers around the state are busy with spring preparations. Many of the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Farms already have seedlings under grow lights and their reservation books waiting for sign-ups. March and April are common months for CSA registration, with many farms filling slots completely by May. If this is your first season signing up or if you’re searching for a new farmer, I’ve put together some questions and a worksheet to help guide your choice.

I’ve had good–and not so good–experiences with CSA’s. Our first year was a big bust because our expectations didn’t match what our share ended up being. We purchased a ‘salad share’ expecting eggplants and pumpkins and instead got a summer of gourmet heirloom greens. Not a bad thing, just not what we anticipated. It was a lesson in how a little research goes a long way. These questions are not comprehensive, but should help you in researching the best fit for your summer CSA!

First things first: Are you sure a CSA is right for you?

CSA’s are one of the single best ways to have regular interaction with your local farmer. Keyword of caution in that statement: regular.  A new delivery shows up every week all summer whether or not you’re ready for them. Having a plan and knowing your eating habits is important when choosing a CSA. If summer already means time in the garden, at the farmers’ market or in the kitchen, you’re probably ready for the regular weekly planning it takes to use up a CSA share. But for some of us who keep busy schedules June through August, CSA shares can cause more stress than enjoyment. If you’ve got 13 weddings this summer or are planning that month-long backpacking trip, this may not be the most cost-effective summer for a CSA membership.

Speaking of cost, how much should you pay for a CSA share?

The cost structure for each CSA runs on basically the same principle. Each shareholder pays for a portion of the farm’s expenses and in return receives a regular produce delivery. That being said, there’s a ton of variability in the cost of shares. I’ve seen shares for Twin Cities delivery sites from $150 to $900 per share. The best way to calculate your costs is to divide the price of the share by the number of weeks of delivery (e.g. $300 per share X 20 weeks of delivery = $15 per week). Some CSA’s provide an estimate of the amount of produce delivered which helps calculate the cost even more closely. If you consider your typical summertime grocery bill and it totals about the same, the CSA is probably a good fit for your budget. Remember you’re also directly supporting a farmer. For some of us we’re willing to pay extra to know we’re doing our part to keep it local.

Here’s a CSA research worksheet I’ve created to help you evaluate your options this year: 

Download the .pdf CSA Buying Guide Worksheet

CSA Worksheet

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