CSAs are one of the best ways to get local seasonal fruits and vegetables on a regular basis. I’m going to explain what a CSA is and how belonging to one can help you eat healthy.
How Does a CSA Work?
CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. When you belong to a CSA you buy a “share” from a local farm and in return, you receive a certain amount of seasonal produce each week (or every other week) during the farming season. You pay for the entire season up front. It’s like having a subscription or membership to a nearby farm.
My CSA runs from May to mid-November each year. The exact months that your CSA operates will depend on the growing season in your area. During that time, I receive a box of fresh produce once a week. I’ve also seen CSAs that offer “half-shares” where members receive a box every other week for a lower price. This may be a good option if someone is concerned that they cannot eat everything they get if they were to receive a weekly box.
What Do You Get In a CSA Share?
First, you choose whether you want to receive a small or large share. The exact amount you receive will vary by CSA, however, a small share (~6-8 items) is generally sufficient for 1-2 people. A household of 3 or more people would probably want a large share (~8-12 items). I’ve also seen CSAs offer jumbo shares which would work for large families or people who eat a lot of produce.
Your weekly share will include fresh vegetables that were picked that week. Depending on what is in season at that time, this may consist of things like tomatoes, squash, leafy greens, peppers, onions, or potatoes. Some CSAs also provide fruit in their shares, such as berries and peaches in the summer and apples and pears in the fall.
You will generally have some say about what you receive in your box. For my CSA I go to a pickup location, which allows me to choose exactly what I get that week. If your CSA delivers your box to your home, someone else will add the items for you. However, many CSAs will give you the opportunity to substitute some items so you don’t have to take something you really don’t like.
You may also be able to sign up to receive other types of foods from nearby farms, such as eggs, meat, cheese, or honey. Another benefit is that you may also be eligible for discounted prices at that farmer’s market stand by the farm that runs your CSA.
The cost will vary, however, you can expect to pay about $20 per week for a small share and $30+ per week for a larger share.
A good resource to find CSAs in your area is https://www.localharvest.org/csa/.
5 Ways a CSA Helps You Eat Healthy
In addition to supporting local farmers, joining a CSA can help you eat a healthier diet. Here are five ways that a CSA membership can promote healthy eating habits.
You consistently receive fresh produce
Belonging to a CSA guarantees that you will regularly get fresh fruits and vegetables. You’re more likely to incorporate fresh produce into your diet when you get a box of it weekly. I probably eat the healthiest during the months that I get my CSA because I make an effort to eat everything that I receive in my box to avoid throwing out food.
You save money
I’ve found that the amount that I pay for my weekly CSA share is less than what I would pay if I bought the same items at the grocery store. You are buying the food directly from the farmer that produces it. Therefore, you’re not paying for costs associated with a middleman transporting and distributing the food after it leaves the farm.
You eat seasonally
Everything you receive in your box will be in peak season for your region. Each year I can expect strawberries in June, peaches in July, apples in September, and butternut squash in October. Vegetables that are in season tend to be fresher and more flavorful so you will be more likely to want to eat them. I find that the quality of the fruits and vegetables that I get from my CSA are better than any grocery store.
You get a variety of produce
Each week you’ll receive at least half a dozen different vegetables. Occasionally this will include new vegetables that you’ve never tried before or never cooked before on your own.
This will encourage you to improvise and become more creative in the kitchen. In turn, you will become more comfortable building meals around ingredients you have on hand, which is a skill that makes it easier to throw together a healthy meal anytime. Furthermore, eating a variety of fruits and vegetables is healthy because it helps to ensure that you are getting all the vitamins and minerals that you need.
It can help with meal planning
During the summer and fall months, most of my meal planning is based on what I get from my CSA that week. I do this so that I use up everything I receive in my box This means that my meals revolve around a lot of vegetables. Some CSAs even provide you with weekly recipes that use the vegetables they give you that week. That can be incredibly helpful for meal planning, especially if your box includes vegetables you don’t routinely cook.
I hope this overview of what a CSA is and how it can promote healthy eating has encouraged you to try one this year. It may become an annual tradition that you look forward to each spring!