Is CSA Right for My Family?
You may have seen us throw the term CSA around quite a bit in the past year. In fact, it was the most major addition to our business last year. Two years ago, our friend Cara of Wild Farm Soap gave us the crazy brave idea of starting a Community Supported Agriculture program with her family’s pasture raised pork, chicken, and turkey. We were growing a large vegetable garden in the backyard at the time and had no idea that by the following growing season we’d be planting on a little over a quarter of an acre and sending our veggies and cut flowers home with 9 very special families each and every week. It was an amazing experience. I am excited to start the same adventure in new ways with new families this year!
One thing you may be wondering is what CSA is. Well, I have plenty of posts on that very specific topic (here and here and here), and you can even read about our CSA program in depth by visiting our About Our Program page.
Today, I want to discuss the question, Is CSA right for my family? It’s a little bit of a pop quiz in ways. What exactly does CSA entail? How will picking up your food from our farm affect your life over the course of 23 weeks and what will change? Is CSA the right type of program for you?
Here’s the hard truth: CSA is not a good fit for everyone.
That’s the simple reality! Joining a Community Supported Agriculture program is not the only way to support local farms and farmers, but it can be a really fun way to do so. That is okay! This program invites in a certain type of consumer, someone that wants to be involved with the happenings on our farms as well as living in a way that is more unpredictable and unique than the purchasing at the farmer’s market.
Maybe that sounds like something you’d be interested in? Or maybe you would just like to grab our food when you feel like it at the farmer’s market or in the store. You have to decide! Below I have a few questions listed that may help you in decided which path you want to take when it comes to CSA.
Do you value eating quality vegetable and meat ingredients that taste really good? Does the way that food is grown and raised matter to you?
Have you ever sliced into a grocery store tomato and found yourself more than disappointed with the watery and flavorless meats? What about grabbing a bag of green beans only to have them shrivel and turn moldy in the fridge two days after buying them? That literally just happened to me, and it sucked. What a waste!
The produce that you buy in the grocery store is rarely grown within the correct season nor is it local to your area. The poor quality of vegetables may even be the reason why you don’t like them or never purchase them. When you buy our produce, or the produce of any small farmer, then you will soon know that taste truly matters. Have you ever eaten a garden fresh tomato or a carrot pulled right out of the ground? Life changing, right?
If you enjoy the art of cooking and find value in a high quality taste then you will love CSA. Not only is the produce amazing, but wait until you try the pasture raised chicken and homegrown beef! You’ll never want to go back to cheap ground beef again. This food changes your life - trust me. It changed mine! It inspired me so much that I started this program. Taste matters.
If you don’t value quality or flavor and just want vegetables at the cheapest price, then CSA probably isn’t for you.
Is the relationship with the farmer(s) important to you?
What makes CSA different than any other program out there is that you get to see the farmer or farmers on a weekly basis in their own environment. There is no worry or wonder about where your food is coming from. Not only do you get the chance to put a face to the food you are cooking for your family but you also get to see the production side of it as well, at least you will if you come pick up at our farm!
For our past CSA members, it felt rewarding to be able to see and know that they were taking their part in supporting local farmers.
The downside to this is that in a CSA program means you are making a commitment to that particular farmer, no matter the outcome of the season. Some seasons are not as generous as others. The relationship you are making is one of risk, though this is rarely the case. Still it can happen! With the unpredictable qualities of nature, there may be a season where it rains too much or not enough, where insects attack a crop, or where you might not see as many tomatoes.
As a CSA member, your motivation to join our program is and should be not only about the financial value of the food but also about having our backs as small farmers and continuing to follow in the pursuit of keeping small farms like ours alive. For food from small farms is the closest product you can get to growing and raising it yourself!
Are you willing to try new foods? Do you want to change your eating habits and eat by the seasons?
One thing we realized that makes CSA different from your average farmer’s market stand is that members get the opportunity to try unique vegetables and meat cuts in their weekly baskets. There were many weeks where a surprise crop would turn up that was new to our customers. What is pac choi? How do I cook a tatuma squash? By joining our program you will not only have an amazing selection of classic vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, and potatoes but also have the opportunity to try some new veggies to try like kohlrabi, dinosaur kale, Swiss chard, and rutabagas. The same goes for meat! Time to get over just grabbing a package of ground pork and try shoulder roasts and new york strip and smoked hocks and fresh ham. You will love our wide and generous selection of food!
Don’t fret either if you receive a vegetable that you would never cook with originally - we will help teach you how to cook with it! That’s what we are here for. While we are no longer continuing our CSA Recipe Blog, I will be sharing ideas and recipes on our regular blog as well as weekly newsletters sent to CSA members.
Another huge part of CSA is that your eating habits will be forced to change. While I would love to eat fresh salad greens and broccoli June through November, that’s not reality. Neither is expecting tomatoes in May or November. Eating by the seasons and even simply by the week is a major part of what makes CSA both unique and amazing. You are constantly adding diversity into your diet! Did you know that diversifying your diet is one of the best ways to improve your health? Each week of CSA is different; this is something that CSA members have to come to terms with. The tomatoes might not last, or you might not get as much as you did last week.
It takes time to learn to change your eating habits and to not have exactly what you want when you want it. If you are expecting a box full of cucumbers and peppers each week when signing up for CSA, then our program might not be for you. We grow everything outdoors in ground and according to the season. This leads to a lifestyle change that may be hard to get used to, but anyone can do it! We are there to help you adjust and give you helpful tips and ideas.
Do you find yourself wanting more of a meal plan?
Maybe you have a strict meal plan each week for your family. Maybe you are never good at planning meals and need more control in that area of your life. Both of these options can be difficult to adjust to when it comes to joining CSA.
For the person who needs control over a meal plan, you may have to learn to be flexible with your tight schedule. We will tell you a few days before pick-up what you will be receiving in your basket. This might mess up your plans if you were hoping for a specific ingredient!
If you are never good at meal planning, a CSA basket kind of forces you to become a planner. You will be getting a set of specific veggies and meats every single week that will inevitably go bad if you do not use them. This is okay! It happens, even to us as farmers. Adjusting to a new lifestyle choice is hard to get used to.
One of the biggest reasons that members leave a CSA program is that they do not receive enough of what they wanted and too much of what they did not want. This is something that we wish we could control, but unfortunately we cannot. Some crops just do better than others!
If you want to try eating by a more scheduled routine but are open to being creative in the kitchen, then CSA would be a great fit for you. CSA members have to have a love of cooking! It’s a very important part, and we love hearing what you cooked with our meat and veggies! Can you be flexible when it comes to your meal plan and are willing to try new things?
Are you looking for a “deal” compared to the prices available at the grocery store?
This is probably the hardest obstacle to hurdle. You simply cannot compare the experience of CSA to the prices at the grocery store. Joining a CSA is most likely not going to bring you any better deals, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not also affordable. The difficult part is paying your share price up front, which in turns, grants us the ability to purchase all of the equipment needed for the upcoming season like seeds, irrigation, tractor repair, bedding, and feed. It also helps to feed our families as well.
Our food matters. Not only in the fact that it was grown and raised on a small local farm. It is creating a direct-to-consumer market that hardly exists anymore. People then did not have access to grocery stores like we do now where food was conveniently packaged and processed for you. Most of the produce you purchase at the grocery is grown in a different country and under poor conditions. The meat is raised in a building instead of under the sun.
Can you put a price tag on what we do? It’s difficult to. We try to offer you the best price we possibly can while growing and raising food that takes more labor, more time, and more expensive equipment. CSA members value the high quality of our product and are willing to pay our price because our food showcases their journey with healing, with cooking, with eating.
Do you expect to fill up your entire grocery list with this food? Can you take the time out of your schedule to stop by the farm each week?
This is by far the hardest part for our personal CSA customers. Can you make the time to come visit the farm (or our other locations) each week to pick up your food? It’s something that you may not think is a problem, but 10 weeks in can get old very quickly.
But I already go to the grocery store every week? That’s a great point, and for me, it’s the conclusion that I would make as well! But before you think that’s the easy solution, remember that our CSA baskets may not fill your entire pantry each and every week. We don’t provide pantry staples like cheese, milk, flour, sugar, or eggs. While we do sell eggs at our Country Store, they’re not available in our CSA program.
The point is to remember that while you may no longer be purchasing a bulk of your fresh food at the grocery, you will now be making an extra trip during your week to our farm or the farmer’s market. Is that something you are okay with doing for the next 23 weeks?
Maybe you are, and we think that it’s amazing how you continue to show up! We hope that we continually show up for you as well. One thing that can really be a downside as the farmer is to watch a basket go to waste because you didn’t show up to get it. We want you to be aware of the commitment that you are making to us and to yourself! Plus showing up at the farm every week is pretty darn fun! We have the best conversations with our CSA members and have even had some of them ask to help work on the farm. We love being able to snip fresh herbs for you while you’re here and collect a dozen eggs right before your eyes. It makes our job fun, and we know that you have a blast experiencing farm life without actually having to do any farming.
So what do you think? Is CSA right for your family? I hope that it is, but I completely understand if you are more comfortable with purchasing your farm fresh food at the farmer’s market each week. This year we will be at the Iowa City Wednesday Farmer’s Market and the Cedar Rapids Farmer’s Market where you can purchase our vegetables, herbs, and cut flowers.
We want you to be aware of what CSA really is and to make the best decision for your family. Our CSA members value the high quality of food, want to experience the journey, enjoy the farmer-to-consumer relationship, and love to cook with diverse foods. Does this sound like you?
If you are ready to take the leap, follow these steps below:
We cannot wait to have you!