Improve your health | Eat more tasty food | Invest in a hard working family | Strengthen your community | Save our environment
Yes, you can do all these things with one profound action. By purchasing a share in a CSA (community supported agriculture) farm.
What Are CSAs?
CSAs are a veggie (and sometimes other foods) subscription program. At the start of the season—now, believe or not—consumers pay for a share of a farm’s production over the course of the season. The community of investors who make this commitment help the farm fund the up front operating costs they need to buy seed, recruit labor, and generally plan and implement the production for the farm.
How CSAs Benefit You
Your share of the farm gets you a portion of the weekly harvest as produce comes into season. Buying-in gives members a slight discount, plus guaranteed first selection. Not only are share items harvested at the height of ripeness, but if quantities of high-demand items are limited (think strawberries), share boxes are filled first. Having a pre-filled veggie box can sound intimidating, but many farmers enable weekly customization, easy additional purchase (meat, eggs, etc.) or even flexibility around a vacation week or two.
Your investment in the farm is also an investment in your own health, committing you to eating a full season of veggies. Most Americans do not eat the recommended daily intake of produce, and making behavior change is hard. But repeating a behavior, like picking up a weekly stash of veggies over twelve to twenty four weeks, is how it becomes a new habit. University of Kentucky researchers found CSA members:
go to the doctor less
spend less on prescriptions
eat more fruits and vegetables, and
consume less processed food.
The most exciting finding was that for research participants who started a CSA program with statistically higher (pre-existing) diet-related medical claims, it was possible to see a reduction by $1,000 to $1,500 in medical expenditures over the 12 months following their participation in the CSA program.
To get your veggies, you will regularly interact with your farmer, which becomes an opportunity to get to know your farm, meet other shareholders, and learn new ways to prepare your produce. Almost all CSAs provide a weekly newsletter with info on what's happening at the farm, what's being harvested, and easy recipes.
Many CSAs, such as Hyde Park Farmers’ Market CSA growers, offer pick up at a farmer market. This allows you to gather all your grocery needs in one trip, while strolling the stalls and mingling with friends and neighbors.
Navigating Some Challenges of CSA
Many consumers find the thought of having to learn to cook a bunch of new veggies intimidating. While there may be some new varieties, CSAs mostly offer relatively familiar and staple foods that are their highest-demanded products at the market. Some also offer a choice model where you get to pick out what veggies you want when you pick up.
On the occasion where you aren’t familiar with a product you’re getting, there are tons of online resources for using CSAs (take a look at the Stone Barns Center, Taste of Home and blogs like Love and Lemons for starters). But the best thing to do is ask your farmer! They wouldn’t grow it if they didn’t know how to eat it, and their livelihood is intertwined with giving consumers all the skills they need to prepare and enjoy our region’s local products.
In signing up for a CSA, a member becomes a partner with the grower and other members—taking the good with the bad. Adverse events, like challenging weather patterns or infestations, could impact the variety or even quantity of produce available. Most CSAs though are so diversified that barring major environmental events (like a hurricane or hail storm), you as a CSA member will still have plenty of variety.
The Impact You Have
When you and others invest in farmers who grow healthy produce and meats on sustainably-stewarded lands, you are investing in changing the landscape and ecological impacts of farming directly in our region—think less storm water and nutrient runoff from farms with healthy, carbon absorbing soils and fewer fossil fuels emitted in transporting your food. There are a lot of incentives and barriers that make it difficult for farmers to invest in the practices that produce these results. By investing in a farmer, you are giving a farmer the backing they need to steward their land and helping overcome those challenges.
Combined, this all fosters a strong sense of community with feelings of “all being in it together”—because you and a whole team of people are investing in you and your community!
CSA Week: Sign-up Now!
2022 CSA Week is right around the corner: February 20th through 26th. This is the ideal time to make a CSA commitment and enjoy the taste of local food throughout the summer.
There are several resources for finding your ideal regional farm, including the CORV Guide, Edible Ohio Valley and KY Proud. Plus, most of our region’s farmers’ markets host CSA growers. For example, check out the Hyde Park Farmers’ Market CSA growers.
👨🏼🌾 Learn more about the Greater Cincinnati Regional Food Policy Council's work getting local food from Farm to Consumer and some of the other ways you can Buy Local.
👩🏾🌾 Share this story on your social media to spread the word about #CSAWeek, and tell us about the CSA you've bought into, by tagging Green Umbrella.