No Space To Garden? How To Find The Right CSA

CSA box from Suzie's Farm
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Apartment dwelling is a reality for many Americans. In fact, it’s estimated that 28% of Americans currently live in multifamily buildings like apartments and townhomes.

While the convenience of living in an urban area with easy access to amenities is a great benefit to many, there are downsides too. One of those trade-offs is the lack of a yard where a garden can be grown.

Fortunately, there is an option for getting local produce even if you don’t have the space for your own garden. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is becoming an increasingly popular way for people to buy local, in-season food direct from a farmer in their region.

CSA box from Suzie's Farm

CSA Box from Suzie’s Farm, a 140-acre USDA-certified organic farm located thirteen miles south of downtown San Diego. Image source.

How does a CSA work?

In the CSA model, farmers sell a set number of farm shares to people in the community. These boxes can contain any number of items like fruit, vegetables, herbs, flowers, eggs, nuts and even meat, depending upon what the farmer raises.

The farmer gets to depend on the weekly income from the membership fees, and you get fresh, local food each week. One of the neat side benefits is your box may contain vegetables you’ve never cooked before. What better excuse to try out a new recipe.

Most CSAs offer a set box each week – usually in multiples sizes like small, medium and large. However, some CSAs let you pick and choose what items you’d like to order each week. These CSAs are great for families with young kids because you can add your kids’ favorite fruits to your order so you can always have healthy snacks on hand.

Keep in mind that what’s included in your CSA box will vary each week. The amount of produce you receive may also vary depending how abundant the farmer’s harvest was that week, or if any unforeseen growing issues were encountered. There are no guarantees with CSAs, so be aware of that when making the commitment.

How do you choose a CSA?

Be sure to talk with the farmer before choosing the CSA. You’ll want to confirm what types of produce you can expect in your weekly box and what the typical quantities are. You’ll also want to find out how the produce varies through the seasons.

It’s a good idea to speak with multiple CSA farms in your area if there are more than one to be sure you choose the best CSA for your needs. You can ask the farmers for references from current or past CSA members before you sign up if you don’t have friends or family that are already members.

Different CSAs have different policies. For instance, some farms require their CSA members to work a set number of hours on the farm each year as part of the agreement. Some programs allow you to pay weekly or monthly, and others require you to pay for the year up front.

Some farms may supplement their harvest with that from another farm when necessary. If eating organic produce is important to you, you’ll want to make sure the farms they partner with also follow organic farming practices.

LocalHarvest has the most comprehensive directory of CSA farms, with more than 4,000 listed in their database, which you can access for free. You can search for CSA programs in your area, and read reviews that members may have left. Eatwild is a great resource for finding local, pasture raised meats too.

Are you a member of a CSA? What tips can you offer to someone looking to join a CSA?

Feature image courtesy of Suzie’s Farm

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Chrystal Johnson

Chrystal Johnson, publisher of Happy Mothering, founder of Green Moms Media and essential oil fanatic, is a mother of two sweet girls who believes in living a simple, natural lifestyle. A former corporate marketing communication manager, Chrystal spends her time researching green and eco-friendly alternatives to improve her family's life.