Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)

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How old is that tomato in your hand at the local super market? A few days? A week? How long until it will begin rotting once you get it home? What types of pesticides were used on the crop? All of these questions are impossible to answer as a shopper looks at fresh produce at a local grocery store. The only way to know for sure how your produce was grown is to get it straight from the farm– a complete reality for shoppers living in cities and suburbs with community supported agriculture (CSA).

Community supported agriculture is not a new idea, but it is gaining in popularity as families become more vigilant about the foods they eat. Plus, with the affordability of online communication such as websites for farms, and emailing to send out crop lists and delivery times, CSA is easier than ever for everyone's participation.

Just like buying shares in a company, community supported agriculture allows families to buy shares of the farm crop for a season. Now, this doesn't mean a share of the entire crop a farm grows, but rather CSA farms have set fields or rows dedicated to CSA crop yields. Share prices range based on the number of people you expect to feed.

Each week the CSA farm designates a variety of vegetables and fruits as a share. For example, one week in spring for a farm in the Southeastern United States a share could include various amounts of beans, carrots, beets, corn, strawberries, peas, squash, lettuce and greens, cabbage, tomatoes, and turnips. Once the farmer sets the amount of produce one share equals for the week, families receive produce amounts based on the number of shares purchased.

CSA is not without risks. Families buying shares will not get a refund if poor weather or other problems affect the CSA crop yield. However, the chances of not getting anything are very slim. Also, shoppers are not protected from poor weather conditions or crop blights at the grocery store either. When adverse growing conditions affect regions, the prices on produce at the local grocery store increase accordingly.

Delivery of CSA produce is handled differently by each farm. CSA farmers may elect to have share buyers pick up the produce at the location, or at a centralized location between the farm and urban living areas. Many CSA's are managed in a grass roots style, so families can also arrange to "carpool" the vegetables with other CSA participants and switch off pick up weeks. A rarer option is personalized delivery of CSA produce, and when available there is an extra cost.

A final benefit of participating in a CSA is taking the family to the farm. CSA farmers are glad to show families where the crops are grown and teach children how their favorite vegetables and fruit go from seeds to snacks. Additionally, there may be pick your own days where CSA participants can bring their own containers and pick strawberries or beans directly from the fields. Ask about pick your own days near the end of growing seasons for specific produce, or gleaning opportunities.

Participating in a CSA not only helps farmers and urban families, but also give a greater environmental impact. By supporting locally grown produce at nearby farms, CSA participants are cutting down on the amount of produce shipped via truck across the country.

If you ever wanted to support your local farms, buy fresh produce free of pesticides and artificial enhancements, and reduce green house gas emissions, then participate in a community supported agriculture program in your area. You can save money on produce, and bring the freshest food to your family's table. There is a reason the top restaurants rely heavily on locally grown produce– nothing tastes just quite as good.

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