Welcome to Cranky Puppy Farm!

This blog belongs to two Gen X-er's smackdab in downtown Kansas City where we've been renovating and decorating two old Victorians built in the 1890's. Our life is filled with 3 demanding Pomeranians (1 of them cranky, of course), honking cars, noisy neighbors and the hustle and bustle of city life but we dream of the day when we can move to our 40-acre farm and hear nothing but the wind and the cows next door. Until then, we're chronicling our triumphs and mishaps here as we try to garden and preserve on 2 city lots, raise chickens, and learn all those things we should have learned from our grandparents. Welcome to our world - we hope you'll stay awhile!

What to Look For in a CSA

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Today's the day!  We're having a lunch and learn at work to discuss the CSA with Good Natured Farms and I am so excited to learn more about it. 

Let's get this out of the way first:  I realize some of you might not know what a CSA is (I understood what it meant, but didn't know what the letters stood for until I Googled it just now!)  CSA is "Community Supported Agriculture", which means you buy locally from local farmers - you are essentially buying a "share" in their farm.  Rather than eating food that's been trucked all over God's creation before it gets to you weeks later, you get  ultra-fresh food and you know who's growing it.  The farmer gets paid at the beginning of the growing season when they most need the funds for seeds and other supplies, plus it helps increase their revenue later by cutting out the middle men.  It's a much closer relationship between the farmer and the consumer.  Outside of growing your own, it's a great way to have fresh produce for your family to enjoy.

I have really high hopes for this talk today.  With limited raised bed space for gardening, I can't be very experimental in what we grow and a CSA would allow us to try some foods that we haven't tried before or that we can't grow ourselves.  But that's also the fear that I have:  yours truly was a VERY picky eater as a kid (I didn't even try a pickle until 2 years ago) and so I'm always scared to try new foods.  I'm finding, however, that the fear is unfounded.  I've liked just about everything I've tried so far!

So, in preparation for this talk, I went looking for information on how to evaluate a CSA program and ran across these juicy little tidbits. 

Where can I find a CSA?

You can find CSAs in your area by visitinng the LocalHarvest website.  We have 31 in our area!  There's even a Kansas City CSA coalition where you can find more information about local CSAs.  In our area, they usually run from mid-May to mid-October but some run all year in other areas of the country because they're using hydroponic or greenhouse methods.  If you're interested in joining, you'll want to sign up early because many CSAs sell out fast.

What's included in a CSA?

Generally, fresh produce is the main staple and what's included from week to week will vary depending on what's currently being harvested.  Also, some CSAs include stuff other than just veggies:  you often have the option to buy shares of eggs, homemade bread, grass feed meat, cheese, fruit, flowers, bee products or other farm items.  You'll want to evaluate each CSA for what they offer and decide which one best fits your food lifestyle (there are purely vegetarian CSAs, heirloom CSA's, foodie CSAs, etc.)

One thing to look at is flexibility in what's included.  Some farmers will simply put out all their produce and let you pick what you want (using a "credits" system), but others may have a set list of what you get from week to week and you can't deviate from that list.  Be sure to ask what happens if you go on vacation and can't pick up your basket one week - can you delay to the next week or "gift" it to someone else?

How much does it cost?

It depends on the grower, but also on the "share size" that you purchase.  Many farms offer different options from "full-size" shares to "half or partial" shares.  A full-size share is designed to feed a family of four for a week and a half-size share will feed two adults.  Ask if the CSA will allow you to buy in bulk in addition to the cost of the CSA.  Many farmers will allow you to do this and will give you a cost break on those items (think potatoes, tomatoes, or anything for canning or freezing.)  Some will also let you trade work on the farm for a free basket or significant discount.

The cost of the CSA is paid up front (although some farmers will allow you to do installment payments).  Costs seems to run between $200 to $400 for a partial share and $400 to $700 for a full share on average.  For example, the local Growers CSA Alliance at Hen House market here in KC is $25 paid weekly for 20 weeks, so $500 total.  For that, you get 20 weeks of fresh produce, meat, milk, jams, bread, a t-shirt and 2 canvas totes, and a cookbook.   Ultimately, get a list of what an average delivery will look like and then go price the items.  Does it seem like a good value for your family?

Since it's local, is the food organic?

Not necessarily.  You'll want to ask the farmer about their growing methods - do they use pesticides and, if so, what kind?  To be truly organic, the farmer has to be certified.  But that doesn't mean that they don't follow organic farming practices - they just can't say they're organic if they're not certified.  And "organic" doesn't mean that no sprays or fertilizers are used.  Keep in mind that alot of CSA's are made up of several small farms in the area, so you may need to ask about each participating farm.

Do I have to pick it up or do they deliver?

Some CSAs will deliver to your home, some require that you pick it up on the farm, and many partner with local stores so that you can just pick it up there.  You'll want to make sure the drop off times and locations are convenient for you so that your fresh meat\produce isn't left sitting.

This sounds great!  Are there any disadvantages to joining a CSA?

Sure.  Remember, we're talking about farming and anything can happen:  drought, really hot summers, etc.  Be sure to ask about a backup plan in case this happens!  Many farmers will partner with farmers in nearby regions to ensure that CSA members are covered if there's an awful season.  So the products won't be local, but at least you won't walk away with empty hands.

So, in summary, there are lots of things to consider when evaluating whether a CSA is right for you.  Do you participate in a CSA in your area?  I'd love to hear about your experiences and any other tips you might have on evaluating a CSA.


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