Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Pros and cons of staying with a CSA

My Community Supported Agricuture (CSA) experience will be coming to a close in about six to eight weeks.

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.

Pros -

  • 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.)
Cons -

  • 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

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.


EcoBurban said...

I'm in agreement. The CSA we almost signed up for was quite expensive and from what I hear they didn't deliver the types of produce everyone expected due too weather conditions. I went the Farmer's Market route as well as getting some produce through my local food club that bought a couple of shares to sell through the club. I think I will do the same next year! Great post for those looking for the pros and cons!

Green Bean said...

A CSA is not for everyone. I have a friend who has a CSA. Her box is $30 a month and she gets about the same amount of food that I would get at a farmers' market or supermarket for $100. HOWEVER, it is very limited. She only gets what is in season at her farm - even if another farm in our 100 mile radius would have totally different produce. It works very well for her though because she is (1) a single working mom and (2) feels very connected with the farm and farmers.

I'd definitely suggest checking out your options. I have the time to visit my farmers' market every week but, if you don't, a CSA is a great way to eat local and support local farmers while enjoying fresh produce. Plus, it will definitely expand your cooking skilz.

Robbie said...

I'm glad to know not everyone has similar experiences! I am heavily leaning toward next year not re-signing with Nature's Harvest and instead sticking with homegrown and the farmers market. If I need variety, I'm getting a good sense on which markets offer it, and if nothing else, there's always Fresh Market for rare occasions!

Chile said...

From what I read on blogs, CSAs vary widely. The small amounts of each kind of produce does make it harder to cook a dish featuring one particular kind of food. Everything tends to become multi-vegetable dishes.

I'm sorry yours is not living up to your expectations. The more I read others' experiences, the more I realize I lucked out with mine. The farmer is great, the produce is usually in good shape, and it's year-round.

And, I'm extremely lucky in that I get to volunteer in return for my share so it does not hurt the budget. In your case, though, I'd say do the Farmer's Market.

Anonymous said...

Hello, I've never visited your blog before. I found my way here from the blogs on the Great Lakes area APLS list. I live in the Indianapolis area as well, so I thought I'd share my first CSA experience with you.

I signed up at Homestead Growers. I chose that one because I didn't think about signing up until the last minute, and most places were full. They decided to expand last year, so they still had slots.

I was very pleased over all. I thought it was very economical. I signed up for a half share, which I think was $17 a week. I certainly felt like I got my money's worth, and I enjoyed the variety of produce. I especially enjoyed getting mushrooms most weeks.

We got plenty of tomatoes, peppers and lettuce, but we also got melon, eggplants, corn, cabbage, squash, green/wax beans, green onions, kohlrabi, beets, radishes, cucumbers, arugula, greens, apples, and probably things I'm forgetting. Of course, we didn't get these all at once, and some weeks were better than others.

Homestead Growers are not certified organic, but they use organic practices. Occasionally they supplemented the box with things from other Indiana growers, and they let us know when things were conventionally grown. The corn was for instance, and one week we got some incredibly tasty peaches that were as well.

Evidently due to the wet spring, the early boxes were less than usual, (no spinach, broccoli only once) but since I didn't have expectations on that front, I wasn't disappointed. At any rate, I was very satisfied with my first CSA experience, so I thought I'd share. Sorry about the long response!

Anonymous said...

Sarah, thanks for your comment. I did get in touch with Homestead Growers, but they do not serve my part of the Indianapolis metro.

Anonymous said...

Keeping in mind the reasons for joining CSA can help with weighing the pros and cons.

The blog author seems to emphasize a short-term consumer-focused perspective.

But what about the social and environmental reasons for doing this in the first place ?

Robbie said...

Tom, thanks for your perspective. Yes, I take it from a consumer perspective, particularly in this economy, as we each have to make our hard choices.

If you've read other posts on my blog, you can see that I'm a huge proponent of locally grown produce and our organic vendors in town.