I'll be frank that I'm still ambivalent about whether to return, and the last few weeks will help determine whether I'll commit to it for next year. There are a number of pros and cons to using a CSA over shopping locally at the farmers market.
- With a CSA subscription, you are supporting local farmers. (I say this because I know at some farmers markets, such as Kansas City's City Market, they have vendors who come in or bring produce in from out of the region.)
- You get a weekly share of locally produced produce, possibly before farmers markets are open.
- You may get a more variety with a CSA plan than if you went to the farmers market. (For example, mine is loaded with tomato stands, and that's about it, it seems.)
- I signed up for this plan because of the wide variety of produce promised, and much of it didn't happen. I felt like I got a lot of expensive tomatoes, lettuce and green peppers, when I could have simply got those at the local farmers markets instead (organic and at a much cheaper price).
- Sometimes, quality. I've had several weeks where I've had to toss produce before eating it because it was bad when delivered.
- Cost. You do need to pay for the season up front, which can be cost-prohibitive to many families. You sign up in the winter and do not see a "return" until late spring/early summer.
- Weather. We were blessed with a cool May and floods in some regions in June, which may have impacted our early weekly shares. Regardless of how much you receive in a given week (and some weeks there was half of what was promised) you have committed financially that amount.
- You get what you get. If it's a half-cup of broccoli, it's yours to figure out how to flesh that out to make your dish. I felt it forces you to do additional shopping at the store and/or market, whereas if I went list in hand it would be only one trip.
- Not every CSA has a convenient pick-up location. I looked for a program last year, only to find the closest one 30 minutes away. In contrast, a farmers market or farm stand may be in your area of town.
- If you miss your pick-up time, you lose your weekly share. In contrast, if you don't go to the farm stand or market, nothing is lost on your end.
If you're considering your options, definitely shop around. Talk to the farmers more than I initially did - in my excitement I just signed up, sight upseen. To find markets and CSAs near you, visit localharvest.org.
The name of this CSA, one of the oldest in Indianapolis, was deleted from this post on January 28, 2009. I have been falsely accused of libel by representatives of this CSA and will no longer promote them by using the name of the organization. I urge you to research any CSA program thoroughly prior to investing in shares.
Edited Jan. 30, 2009, to remove link to this CSA that was inadvertently left on the post.