CSA stands for “Community Supported Agriculture,” and is just one of the many ways customers who believe in “real, transparent food” can support a farmer.
But it’s not the only way.
What’s the difference between supporting a farmer through a CSA versus a roadside stand? Or a farmer’s market?
WHY WOULD A PERSON CONSIDER SIGNING UP FOR A CSA INSTEAD? These are great questions. And everyone who considers joining a CSA should be asking them.
The reality is that CSA is not a good fit for everyone, and you shouldn’t feel bad if it’s not a match for you.
The CSA customers who come back year after year are a “certain kind” of customer. Not a “better customer” — just a certain kind — the kind that matches the unique format of a CSA model.
It’s best to go into the decision with your eyes wide open, and see if your expectations match the experience that a CSA will give you.
To help you decide if CSA is right for you and before you sign up for this seasonal commitment to a specific farmer, ask yourself these 6 questions….
Q1: Is a relationship to the actual farmer important to you? (Do you want to support a farmer?)
Effective CSAs focus on the farmer-customer relationship as much as the product.
We find that many of our members feel that the relationship to the farm and it’s farmers is one of the most integral reasons for joining our CSA.
CSA members want to be able to shake the hand that feeds them. Which is why our CSA is perfect for those kinds of people. The opportunity to come out to the farm to pick up, not just a prepacked box, but to fill your own bags or boxes with the days harvest as well as participate in U-Pick on the farm for things like strawberries, beans, peas etc. is what our CSA is known for.
There’s something rewarding about knowing you are doing your part to support a local farmer.
Call it satisfying your “food conscience.”
CSA is a mechanism you can put into your weekly routine that allows you to access great-tasting food, knowing there’s a real farm family’s livelihood depending on it.
This means that you are committed to staying with a specific farmer through an entire season, come thick or thin.
Inherent in this arrangement is the understanding that there is a risk. Mother Nature may send too much sun or rain, bugs or disease, and a certain crop or crops may not appear in your share that summer. On the flip side, there may be a bumper crop of tomatoes or cucumbers, and you’ll be swimming in cucurbits.
CSA members live with and embrace this reality every day.
Their motivation for supporting the farm is just as much about having the back of the farmer as it is about getting the full financial value of their share.
Make sure you read that last sentence again… it’s kinda huge.
But this relationship goes both ways.
When you join a CSA, your farmer will make an attempt to cultivate a connection with you too. This means:
They learn your names and work hard to make the “big CSA” feel like a small family.
They might plan events to get you engaging with the farm. (Summer Potlucks are the BEST!)
They try to add value to your life, by teaching you about their food’s story, or how to prepare it.
They do things to help you succeed at eating their food.
This doesn’t mean you have to take advantage of these connecting points. But when you do, your CSA experience becomes more rich for both you and the farmer.
This relationship experience is part of what you are paying for in a CSA arrangement.
So, what do you think?
A. Yes, I care about knowing and supporting my farmer on a much more direct level
B. No, it’s not really that important to me.
Q2: Do you value having quality vegetable ingredients that actually taste good?
Our vegetables become your medium to create in the kitchen. Make something beautiful.
Cardboard tomatoes in the winter. Blah. Just don’t do it.
If you’re a CSA prospect, you know this frustration well.
Taste matters for foodies. Because you know that putting together a terrific meal in your kitchen isn’t just about your skill. It starts with the ingredients.
The second most important quality of our successful CSA members is that they love food. Real food.
Food that tastes like it should, because it’s grown in quality soil and is fresher than anything you’ll find in the grocery store.
In fact, CSAs often create food snobs, because customers finally experience how a carrot should really taste, and they cannot go back to the watered down version called “baby carrots” at Safeway or QFC.
If you really love cooking and you really value taste, then you will LOVE being in a CSA. Because CSAs are all about providing high-quality, artisanal vegetables that make your home dining experience feel like an event.
You’re paying for that taste experience when you join a CSA.
If you’re just looking for a basic celery and carrot at the cheapest price so you can make an iceberg salad — this is not your gig. And that’s ok.
How’d you do? How much do you value taste?
A. Yep, I’m all about taste!
B. Hmm, maybe taste isn’t as important to me as the dollar value of the product.
Q3: Are you willing to try new foods? (Really?)
We provide ingredients you may have never seen before in every CSA box to push your horizons in the kitchen.
CSAs will push you to try new foods and explore variety in your kitchen.
Read between the lines here: You will discover new veggies you love, and you’ll discover new veggies you hate.
Part of the CSA experience means getting exposed to a wide variety of vegetable cultivars. We put veggies in your box that you may have never seen before, and we teach you how to eat them.
Look let’s face it:
We know that if left to your own devices, you would never purposely put a kohlrabi in your box. (Or would you? If you would then you would definitely click with CSA).
We have one returning member who when she first began (6 years ago), couldn’t identify a tomatillo to save her life. This last summer I watched her help new CSA members to find those delicious little guys and offer suggestions on how to cook and prepare them. Not only are we here to help you, but our members are dynamite at offering suggestions and tips to help you figure out new veggies!
It’s all part of the great goal in CSA of developing food diversity and teaching our communities (and our kids) how to eat seasonally again. If you want to grow in the kitchen, you have to push yourself to try new ingredients.
How do you feel about trying new things and stepping a little outside your comfort zone?
A. Heck yeah! I’m ready for a challenge, I want to eat ALL the veggies!
B. Not so sure I’m ready for that.
Q4: Do you need control in your menu planning? (read that quote above one more time)
Photo courtesy of Libby Lewis Photography
Hakurei turnips. Would you be willing to play around with this ingredient? Or do you wince at the thought of any kind of turnip entering your kitchen?
Here is an actual quote by a CSA member:
Since I started receiving the box, it has helped me to be more creative with cooking and motivated me to prepare a lot of new dishes that I otherwise wouldn’t have. By having vegetables already selected for me each week, life has been easier (less stress about meal planning). Having the CSA box is like having a personal shopper for veggies. I use your recipes (which have been great) or research new ones with the ingredients in the box each week. I eat mostly a plant-based diet, so not having to shop or think about meal planning has been a real time-saver. Also, it is always fun to see what is in the next box.
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
CSA members have to learn to be flexible with their menu and make things work in the kitchen, because you often don’t know what you will get in your box until the pick up.
Some people love this spontaneity. Others will be stressed by it.
Think hard on this:
Are you willing to give up some control over what goes in your box? Or do you need to live by your plan?
If you’re someone that wants to have spinach lasagna on Wednesday, and your box doesn’t have spinach that week, will you be upset that you have to go elsewhere to supplement your CSA box contents?
If so, then you may be better off buying from the grocery store or farmer’s market retail stands.
This is the number 1 reason non-renewing members give for leaving CSA:
“I didn’t get enough of the things I wanted, and I got too much of the things I didn’t.”
CSA works best for customers who see their kitchen as a creative space, and our vegetables as the “paint” for their canvas.
They can handle the spontaneity required and are willing to experiment with new ingredients to make old meal templates come alive in new ways.
Our CSA provides a roadmap to help you “master” eating the CSA way. But it takes time.
How flexible are you when it comes to meal planning?
A. I’m easy, I look forward to the variety and trying new things!
B. No, I really need to stick to a plan through the week.
Q5: Are you willing to work at eating the CSA way? Patience, my friend. (It’s a marathon, not a sprint to the finish line).
CSA takes time to see results. We have customers that have been with us for over 10 years, but it can take about 2-3 years to learn how to consistently use the box’s full contents.
That means you will waste some food on the front end, as you go through your learning curve.
Come into this experience with an adventurous spirit, and go easy on yourself if you fail to eat the entire box every week at first. It’s really hard to do, especially as a rookie to the system.
There will be many weeks when you have best intentions to be a super-chef and maximize your CSA tasting experience… and then real life sets in, and you find yourself simply eating the broccoli raw with ranch dip.
It can sometimes feel like you’re “failing” in your original goal to change the way you eat.
Realize that if this is your goal, it takes time to learn the skill sets. (Don’t worry, we’re here to help you along the way). Set realistic goals the first year, and work your way into it.
This is a really hard reality for some to face.
Either you don’t get home to make dinner in time because your life is hectic (so the veggies rot)…
…or you end up eating take-out several times a week because you’re playing chauffeur to your 3 kids (so the veggies rot).
Like all paradigm shifts, it takes time to develop new habits and learn how to eat nimbly.
If you are committed to learning how, you can do it!
But it may take a few seasons before you feel like you’ve got it down.
Do you have the staying power to “work” at CSA?
A. Yes, I am ready and raring to go on the CSA journey!!
B. No, I’m not sure I’m ready for the challenge.
Q6: Are you looking for a “deal”? Are you comparing CSA prices to the grocery store?
CSA members tell us that their kids are now eating vegetables. Often times the radishes and turnips disappear on the ride home in the car!
People who fully embrace the CSA model don’t look for their membership to be a “deal” or a bargain.
And they don’t compare the CSA experience to the grocery store price table.
Read that again. This is a really key point.
It is absolutely understandable to ask, “How much does it cost?” And to then weigh the pros and cons.
Supporting a CSA financially however is not just about doing a cost analysis of each vegetable you receive in your box and comparing it to what you’d pay at Fred Meyer or Costco.
Our vegetables have added value because every one of our vegetables is telling a story.
Not just the story of how the food was raised, how it was harvested, or what struggles it faced to come to your plate.
Not just the story of the farmer and their family and how you help them live out their calling to the land.
EVERY VEGETABLE IS ALSO TELLING YOUR UNFOLDING STORY.
Our vegetables become a means to an end: they showcase your journey with food.
They are the starring attraction in your quest to master your kitchen space and prepare a delicious meal to rival any restaurant fare — a meal you can be proud of.
This is not something any grocery store can give you.
CSA customers appreciate this added value of our product, and are willing to pay a premium for it.
So if you’re saying to yourself, “Well that’s more than we’d pay at _____” ~ you may want to hit the pause button.
Are you looking for the best deal or for a new experience for you and your family?
A. Yes, I want the whole CSA experience! Hook, line and sinker, I’m in!!
B. No, I’d really prefer to get the best deal possible even if I have to sacrifice taste and quality.
So, how’d you do?
Did you pass the quiz?
Remember, CSA is just one model out there for getting fresh farmer food onto your table. For those who value the story, the journey, and the farmer relationship behind the food, it can be a great option that can change the way you eat forever.
But there’s no shame in passing on CSA and instead buying weekly from a farmer’s market.
And that may in fact be a better fit to your style or needs.
As in all things, expectations determine how you experience the product. To set you up for CSA success, make sure your expectations align with the philosophy of CSA before you commit.
Ultimately, we want you to be happy and confident with your decision to join our CSA. We have many members that have been with us for years. We’ve watched their children grow year after year and developed really awesome friendships with many of our CSA members. Our members are what makes our farm come alive in the Summer and we couldn’t do it without them! We love Jubilee, but we’re clearly biased.
If you think you’re ready, here are your next steps:
Get ready for an amazing Summer at Jubilee!!