Sharing the Local Harvest: Is Joining a CSA Right For You?

Our actual mid-summer CSA 1/4 bushel of produce + meat share + eggs share circa 2012. Peaches, tomatoes, and dill, oh my!

Even with all the winter weather we've been incessantly pummeled with, it's hard not to start thinking about spring. Despite the occasional tornado warning and incredibly high pollen count, springtime is one of Nashville's best seasons. The change happens rapidly, and seemingly overnight, the whole city is alive again. Sidewalks are sprinkled with white flower pedals from the trees, tulips have peaked up through the ground, and winged insects are starting to explore their neighborhoods again.

While we're not quite there yet, the oncoming spring and a twitter conversation with Red Debted Stepchild has me contemplating whether to rejoin a local CSA for this year's growing season.

What's a CSA?

CSA stands for community supported (or shared) agriculture, and it's an alternative agriculture model based on local food distribution. Every year, individuals pledge to support a local farm in advance for a set amount of time. In return, the farm will provide a weekly box of fresh produce based on what's available and currently in season. Curious about what that may include?

This, of course, depends on your region of the country, but check out this rad seasonality calendar created by the Nashville Farmer's Market. We're lucky to have a fairly long growing season and can start eating locally grown produce as early as April!

My Experience

I've had the pleasure of being a part of a local CSA through Avalon Acres, a farm located in Southern Tennessee (Hohenwald to be exact) just off the Natchez Trace.

The CSA season runs for 26 consecutive weeks (May 4 through October 26) with no breaks. The membership fee is $25 to join and $27 per week for a 1/4 bushel of produce. They offer a ten percent discount for members willing to pay for the season in advance. This brings the weekly fee down to $25.26 per week (only $12.63 per week if split between two people). Best of all, they offer a variety of convenient weekly pickup locations around the city, including Sunday afternoons at a church a few blocks from our house!

Pros

– Weekly access to the most fresh and delicious organic produce I've ever tasted.
– Getting to know what's in season.
– Being forced to frequently cook creatively and eat healthier. Note: these may be cons to some.
– Carnivores rejoice: some CSAs also offer meat and dairy shares!
– Trying new things. I had never even heard of a kohlrabi before joining a CSA! And I've enjoyed using the process of elimination to try and identify the weekly herb in my box. Uhhhhh, lemon basil?

This totally reminds me of one of my favorite Portlandia sketches:

Cons

– Not having enough time to meal plan and cook with all the produce you're given. Definitely not worth developing anxiety over!
– Getting sick of certain things (i.e. never-ending squash in the fall). I've heard similar complaints about kale in the spring.

Conclusion

If you've got the time to be creative with meal planning, cook, and you're willing to commit for a season, I would absolutely recommend joining a CSA. Hell, I've already started a Pinterest board for those stubborn, harder-to-think-of-things-to-cook-with veggies.

Food is really important to me, and being a part of a local CSA has helped me establish a strong sense of place and feel more connected to Tennessee. Though I've never taken advantage of it, I've always wanted to spend a summer preserving seasonal foods to enjoy through the winter. I'm an advocate of small-scale farming and non-factory farming, so supporting a local CSA is in line with my beliefs. And let's be real, eating produce when it's in season is hella good.

Readers: Have you ever joined a CSA? Would you recommend it?

Related Post

Share:

Discussions — 18 Responses

  • Income Surfer March 5, 2014 on 11:11 am

    My wife was a huge fan of the CSA where we used to live. We split it with another person because there was just too much food for one couple. Most of the food was outstanding, but I did get sick of Kale. So much Kale?! I enjoyed the variety throughout the year. Best of luck
    -Bryan

    Reply
    • Addison Cash Income Surfer March 5, 2014 on 1:38 pm

      Do you guys like smoothies? That’s a fast (and healthy) way to get rid of kale quickly.

      Reply
      • Income Surfer Addison Cash March 5, 2014 on 4:55 pm

        We do. Living in Florida we use strawberries and blueberries in smoothies all the time. Never tried kale. I would usually cook it down (steam) and hide where ever I could. Kale smoothies huh…. I guess with a good food processor and a lot of honey that could work. Interesting
        -Bryan

        Reply
        • Addison Cash Income Surfer March 5, 2014 on 6:15 pm

          Honestly, if you just put in a little at a time, you’ll never notice the difference. Well, maybe a little. I put in a lot of berries, so that tends to be the dominant flavor. I also like putting in baby spinach.

          Reply
  • Bridget March 5, 2014 on 7:19 pm

    I will totally be all over the CSA.. when I can afford it. As right now the price and scheduling doesn’t fit with my student lifestyle. I think they’re great though!

    Reply
    • Addison Cash Bridget March 5, 2014 on 8:43 pm

      I hear you! I had to skip it last year because my work schedule was way too demanding to make time for it, but I’m ready to give it another go!

      Reply
  • Ryan @ Impersonal Finance March 5, 2014 on 9:56 pm

    I’m going to have to check out that CSA Addison! My wife has been bugging me to join one, but I’m afraid it will just be too much food and will go to waste. We have a nice little garden in summer, and enjoy the Farmer’s markets for meat, but for $25 a week I might have to give this one a go. If I recall, the scheduling to pick it up was also a pain, but maybe this year things will line up. Thanks for reminding me of this option!

    Reply
    • Addison Cash Ryan @ Impersonal Finance March 5, 2014 on 10:12 pm

      There are so many great CSAs in Nashville, Ryan! You guys should definitely join one. I’m loyal to Avalon Acres, but there are many good options here. There’s got to be one with a convenient pick up for you guys. I need more Tennessee CSA buddies to swap recipes with 🙂

      Reply
  • Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life March 5, 2014 on 11:11 pm

    I would absolutely LOVE to join a CSA, but I can’t commit to being in one place for 6 months, I never know when work is gonna take me out of town. I wish I could do it week to week or even monthly.

    Reply
    • Addison Cash Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life March 6, 2014 on 2:47 pm

      I’ve actually seen a week to week CSA in Nashville! I wonder if there’s one like that near you?

      Reply
  • Anneli @thefrugalweds March 6, 2014 on 1:27 am

    That sounds like such a great idea! The closest we’ve gotten is ordering a weekly produce delivery through a co-op that we met at a farmer’s market nearby. At the time, we were eating out a lot more and just ended up wasting the beautiful produce so we ended up canceling the delivery service. Now that we’ve gotten into juicing, though, it sounds like we can go through all that – so we might look into it again.
    So that’s one suggestion – if you can find the time to juice some of the produce, it might be worth it in the end to keep the CSA 🙂
    Either way, you are healthier for it!

    Reply
    • Addison Cash Anneli @thefrugalweds March 6, 2014 on 2:47 pm

      I drink a lot of green smoothies and it definitely helps with using up all that produce! Especially the greens.

      Reply
  • Daisy @ Prairie Eco Thrifter March 6, 2014 on 2:07 pm

    I’m still considering joining an organic CSA this year. I love the idea and supporting local farms and businesses is really important. Plus, you do save a lot of money with a CSA. I buy a ton of organic produce from the grocery store since I eat a plant based diet, and I think it would save me some cash.

    Reply
    • Addison Cash Daisy @ Prairie Eco Thrifter March 6, 2014 on 2:49 pm

      Sounds like a CSA would be a great fit for you, Daisy. I like that most cities have several to choose from with a range of prices, making it affordable for most everyone!

      Reply
  • Tonya@Budget and the Beach March 6, 2014 on 4:30 pm

    I’ve never joined a CSA because I’m a terrible cook and picky eater and would be afraid I’d have too much that went to waste. That being said, we have so many local farmer’s markets around here that if I want something local and/or organic, it’s very easy to find and get on the fly. I think overall though they are a great idea.

    Reply
    • Addison Cash Tonya@Budget and the Beach March 6, 2014 on 6:09 pm

      A CSA is definitely not for everyone. That’s awesome that you have so many local farmer’s markets near you in L.A. I’m sure you guys have tons of delicious stuff there.

      Reply
  • La Tejana @ Debt Free Tejana March 7, 2014 on 3:31 am

    Oh I’d love to be part of a CSA! If I still lived with roommates it would definitely be worth it, but the ones in my area are too expensive. The portions are large- which is great for a family or roommates, but not for just me.

    Reply
    • Addison Cash La Tejana @ Debt Free Tejana March 7, 2014 on 3:32 am

      Definitely a challenge for one person, unless you’re a vegetarian and seriously committed to cooking!

      Reply