The days are short, the outside temps are frigid, and what you’re going to eat this summer is probably the last thing on your mind. But ‘tis the season for CSA registration; if you haven’t already joined one for the upcoming growing season, now’s the time to act.

The CSA bandwagon is one worth jumping on, if you haven’t already. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. The idea is simple: you buy a “share” of a local farm for a year, and you get a weekly dividend of farm-fresh local produce for that year’s growing season.

If you haven’t tried a CSA before, or have thought about it but haven’t yet taken the plunge, here are seven reasons to consider doing so:

  • Once you've tried fresh-picked cucumbers and tomatoes, you know that the taste of store-bought versions doesn't even come close.

    Once you’ve tried fresh-picked cucumbers and tomatoes, you know that the taste of store-bought versions doesn’t even come close.

    A CSA share guarantees you a weekly supply of just-picked-fresh food that you didn’t have to shop for. If you loathe grocery shopping, don’t have time to get to a farmer’s market, or know the irreplaceable flavor that just-picked produce brings to your table, then buying a CSA share is a no-brainer. Our weekly bag of veggies reaches our table no more than 24 hours after harvest, on average. Having grown up with a large vegetable garden at my disposal, I learned early that no grocery-store tomato or cucumber can ever compare with the taste you get from a fresh-picked one. By investing in a CSA membership, your kids can also experience the irreplaceable yumminess of fresh vegetables. These incredible flavors are far more likely to turn them into veggie lovers than even store-bought vegetables from the produce aisle, let alone those from the frozen or canned section of your local store.

    That would be Essie's hand last summer - when she wasn't even tall enough to see what was on the countertops - reaching up to snack on fresh organic cherry tomatoes.

    That would be Essie’s hand last summer – when she wasn’t even tall enough to see what was on the countertops – reaching up to snack on fresh organic cherry tomatoes.

  • Many CSA farms follow organic practices. Even if they haven’t gone through the certification process (ours hasn’t), many CSA farms follow organic growing practices anyway (ours does – I’ve been to the farm and seen the robust crop of thistles, interspersed with the vegetables, for myself). Organic produce from the store can cost an arm and a leg; organic produce from a CSA share costs a fraction of that.

Speaking of which,

  • A CSA share will save you money on food. Yes, buying a share can seem expensive upfront (though many farms offer payment plans). So you may have to budget ahead for this investment. But dividing the cost of your share by the number of weeks in the season quickly puts things into perspective. Our CSA share comes to about $25 per week. At the height of the growing season, it would easily cost at least that much to buy the four or five pounds of organic heirloom tomatoes in our weekly share at the store, let alone all the other items we get in a given installment. Even buying the non-organic versions of our weekly allotment would cost more than the organic goodies we get at each week’s pickup, if I were to go out and try to buy it all. (And some of the items, I wouldn’t even be able to find at our local stores!) Which leads to my next point:
  • A batch of kale chips ready to go in the oven

    A batch of kale chips ready to go in the oven

    A CSA membership is a great way to expose your kids to healthy eating, while broadening your own palate. I’d never even tried store-bought kale chips before I learned to make my own (for pennies compared to buying them), thanks to the kale in our shares a few summers ago. My kids now love them as much as I do. Likewise, of all the healthy quiche-like casseroles I make for my brood, my husband and kids’ favorite is the Swiss chard pie that our CSA share inspired. I never would have gone out of my way to buy these ingredients on my own. But getting them in my share, and wondering what to do with them, forced me to get creative and try new things – and our diets are richer for it.

  • With planning, a CSA share can improve your diet (while saving you time and money) year-round. There are often weeks in the summer when it’s all we can do to keep up with the veggies our CSA share provides. When those weeks come, I double up on cooking and fill our freezer for the winter months. Making two Swiss chard pies, an extra quart or two of fresh pasta sauce, some extra zucchini-bread muffins, or a second veggie casserole to freeze takes little extra effort, but saves lots of time and energy on those dark winter days when all I want to do is hibernate.
  • Buying a CSA share is an easy way to support green living. For those of you who already try to tread lightly on Mother Earth, this is another no-brainer. On the other hand, if you like the idea of eco-friendly living, but haven’t quite gotten around to doing much about it because of the extra cost or hassle, a CSA membership can remove both of those obstacles.

Finally, and best of all,

  • Thanks in part to our CSA membership, my offspring actually love snacking on fresh veggies, I kid you not.

    Thanks in part to our CSA share, my girls love snacking on fresh veggies, I kid you not.

    Your kids can learn a lot from your choice to join a CSA. They’ll learn how yummy fresh vegetables can be. They’ll learn that veggies don’t grow in cans, especially if you take a family field trip to your local farm, or volunteer to help with the harvest for a day. (In fact, if you homeschool your kiddos, there’s tons of stuff a CSA visit or two could add to your lesson plans.) Best of all, your choice to support a local farm by buying a CSA membership will help to impart values to your children that no amount of money can buy.

If you’re now ready to take the plunge, DIY Natural has a useful list of things to consider when choosing which CSA to support, and you can look for CSA opportunities near you in the United States here and here. If you’re outside the United States and have suggestions for finding CSA farms in other parts of the world, please do share them in the comments!

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