Good Question: Choosing a CSA

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This question comes near the end of the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) season for most, but we thought it would be a good opportunity for those of you with CSA memberships to sound off on your experiences of this season.

After reading about CSA boxes so much over the past few months, I'm looking into subscribing (if that's what you call it...) I am new to the process, so I'm not exactly sure how it works, but in looking at localharvest.com, there seem to be a lot of options in NYC. I live on the upper west side, near Columbia, and would love some advice.

Is there one that everyone uses? A more convenient pick up spot? A trick to picking the right one? Any help would be much appreciated.

Thank you!
Elizabeth

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a way for people to become shareholders or subscribers to a farm and its growing season. You can see a good description of the idea at Local Harvest's CSA page. Members become stakeholders for a farm's growing season - usually paying one up-front fee and then sharing the risks and rewards of local, often organic, farming. For this one-time fee they get a weekly box of the farm's produce - usually a mix of local vegetables and fruit.

The benefits are just-picked, local produce - so much better than grocery store varieties! The risks include uncertainty and limited variety. Your produce is limited to what the farmer sends that week. And if the season is harsh and certain crops don't come up as expected, then shareholders experience that right along with the farm. If crops do well, then there is an abundance.

One other benefit to CSAs is the opportunity to go and experience farms firsthand. Many memberships offer a discount in exchange for a day or two of work weeding or harvesting. Some even require this - we think it's a great opportunity for city-dwellers to get more in touch with their food!

A real CSA, it should be noted, is different from an organics delivery service, like Orlando Organics or Boston Organics, which partners with many farmers - some local and some not - to deliver a more rounded variety of fruits and vegetables year-round. A CSA is usually only active during the local growing season, which may be short in the Midwest, over the winter in Florida, or year-round in California.

We do not have specific suggestions for your area, Elizabeth - we'll leave that to the readers! In general, CSAs in the East and North usually start taking subscriptions in the early spring or late winter. Popular farms, especially ones in areas with few other CSAs, fill up fast, so find options that you like and see if you can get a subscription early for next year.

Comments, anyone? Do you have a good suggestion on a CSA for Elizabeth? Reflections on your own CSA experiences this year?

More on CSAs
CSA = Community Supported Agriculture
Introducing: The Virtual CSA Box
Virtual CSA Box: What's in Your Box?
All Virtual CSA Box posts

(Image credit: Rock Spring Farm)