Is a Farm Share/CSA right for you?
Updated: Feb 20
6 Questions to ask yourself
A Farm Share is another name for CSA, which stands for “Community Supported Agriculture,” and is just one of the many ways customers who believe in “real, transparent food” can support a farmer. But it’s not the only way.
What’s the difference between supporting a farmer through a CSA versus a roadside stand? Or a farmer’s market? Or at the store? Why would a person consider signing up for a CSA instead?
These are great questions. And everyone who considers joining a Farm Share or CSA should be asking them.
The Farm Share CSA customers who come back year after year are a “certain kind” of customer. Not a “better customer” — just a certain kind — the kind that matches the unique format of a Farm Share CSA model.
It’s best to go into the decision with your eyes wide open, and see if your expectations match the experience that a Farm Share CSA will give you.
The reality is that a Farm Share CSA is not a fit for everyone, and you shouldn’t feel bad if it’s not a match for you.
So how do you decide if our Farm Share would be right for you?
Before you sign up for this year long commitment to a specific farmer, ask yourself these six (6) questions….
Q1: Is the relationship to the actual farmer important to you? (Do you want to support a local farmer?)
Effective Farm Share/CSAs focus on the farmer-customer relationship as much as the product. In fact, surveys of CSA members across the nation and in our own research, show over and over that the number one reason for joining a Farm Share/CSA was to support a local farmer. CSA members want to be able shake the hand that feeds them.
There’s something rewarding about knowing you are doing your part to support a local farmer. Call it satisfying your “food conscience.”
My Farm Share can easily be put into your monthly routine, that allows you to access great-tasting food, knowing there’s a real farm family’s livelihood depending on it.
This means that you are committed to staying with a specific farmer through an entire season (in our case, a year), come thick or thin. Inherent in this arrangement is the understanding that there is a risk. Mother Nature may send too much sun or rain, bugs or disease, and a certain crop or crops may not appear in your share that summer, or there may be delays in production and then gluts of bounty.
By joining a Farm Share/CSA you acknowledge that while on paper there is a plan for what the ideal bounty & portions are each month, everything has a harvest season, and sometimes forces beyond our control impact that. Therefore sometimes not everything is available as planned. Eating in the harvest season is not like going to the grocery store, however the taste and end product is also not grocery store quality, it’s better because homegrown always is. Farm Share/CSA members live with and embrace this reality every day.
Their motivation for supporting the farm is just as much about having the back
of the farmer as it is about getting the full financial value of their share.
Make sure you read that last sentence again… it’s the backbone of the entire idea.
But this relationship goes both ways. When you join a Farm Share/CSA, your farmer will make an attempt to cultivate a connection with you too. This tends to mean
* They learn your names and work hard to make the members feel like an extension of family.
* They might plan events or activities to get you engaging with the farm. (Covid has made this a bit more challenging, but creative ideas are starting to surface.)
* They try to add value to your life, by teaching you about their food’s story, or how to prepare it.
* They do things to help you succeed at eating their food.
This doesn’t mean you have to take advantage of these connecting points. But when you do, your Farm Share CSA experience becomes more rich for both you and the farmer.
Q2: Do you value having quality meats and ingredients that actually taste good?
Taste matters, and especially for foodies. Because you know that putting together a terrific meal in your kitchen isn’t just about your skill. It starts with the ingredients.
One of the most important qualities of our Farm Share/CSA “masters” (people who “stick” with CSA) is that they love food. Real food. Food that tastes like it should, because it’s grown and cared for to feed our own family, and then shared with you, so all aspects of quality are important to us.
In fact, Farm Share/CSAs often create food snobs, because customers finally experience how a food should really taste, and they cannot go back to the watered down version at the store. If you really love cooking and you really value taste, then you will LOVE being in a Farm Share/CSA. Because CSAs are all about providing high-quality food that make your home dining experience feel like an event.
You’re paying for that homegrown taste experience when you join a Farm Share/CSA.
If you’re just looking for a basic 70% ground chuck or ribs to cook for the entire neighborhood tailgate party at the cheapest price — this is not your gig.
Q3: Are you willing to try new cuts of meat?
Farm Share/CSAs will push you to try new foods and explore variety in your kitchen.
Read between the lines here: You will discover new cuts of meat you’ve never tried (nothing terribly odd, I only include organ meats etc if you ask for them), and you’ll discover new recipes you love and possibly a few you hate.
Part of the Farm Share/CSA experience means getting exposed to a variety of cuts of meats outside of the staples of ground beef and steak, pork chops and bacon, and obscenely large chicken breasts. I try to give you a tour of all the cuts of meat each animal can provide. When I put your bundle together each month I look at each cut and in my mind I think of a meal to make with it. But not all the cuts may be familiar to you. I have tons of resources for recipes and am always happy to teach you how to prepare them.
It’s all part of the great goal in CSA to develop food diversity and teaching our communities (and our kids) how to eat seasonally again. If you want to grow in the kitchen, you have to push yourself to try new ingredients.
Q4: Do you need complete control of your menu planning?
Remember the saying: “You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit?”
Farm Share/CSA members have to learn to be flexible with their menu and make things work in the kitchen, because you don’t know exactly what cuts of beef, pork or chicken you will get each month. Some people love this spontaneity. Others will be stressed by it.
Think hard on this:
Are you willing to give up some control over what goes in your bundle?
Or do you need to live by your plan?
If you’re someone that wants to have pot roast on every Sunday, and your bundle doesn’t have a roast that month, will you be upset that you have to go elsewhere to supplement your Farm Share/CSA contents? If so, then you may be better off buying from the grocery store or farmer’s market.
The quantity of meats you receive each month will not be enough to feed you or your family for each meal that month, but it will give you a great base to work with and feel good about the food you are consuming. If there is extra meat I always let members know so additional may be purchased if desired.
One of the top reasons non-renewing members give us for leaving our Farm Share/CSA: “I didn’t get enough of the things I wanted, and I got too much of the things I didn’t.” This is most true when there are tons of veggies at the market and little to none in your monthly bundle. This is a meat share, and if I have extra veggies from my garden I do offer them. We are great to pair with a veggie CSA.
Farm Share/CSA works best for customers who see their kitchen as a creative space, and our bounty as the “paint” for their canvas. They can handle the spontaneity required and are willing to experiment with new ingredients to make old meal templates come alive in new ways.
Q5: Are you willing to work at eating the "Farm Share CSA way", like a Farmer?
Ideally there is a blend of beef, pork, chicken and eggs that you would get each month, however it’s not always the case, due to the harvest seasons.
We do not harvest chickens year round, I wait until it’s warm enough to get them via the post office as chicks and hatcheries quit over the really cold months, so there tends to be a bit of a glut of chicken late summer and into the fall. However, I can help you navigate that so you have chicken to use throughout the year.
The same is true for eggs, not all the chickens continue to lay over the winter months and when it gets super hot they tend to lay less often.
Good, wholesome, slow food really does take time to produce and it’s not always available when you’d prefer, but there are ways to preserve the gluts so you can have it later. This is how farmers eat, and it takes time to adjust to that way of thinking. If you are committed to learning how, you can do it! But it may take a few seasons before you feel like you’ve got it down. Patience, grasshopper. (It’s a marathon, not a sprint to the finish line).
Do you have the staying power to “work” at Farm Share/CSA?
Q6: Are you looking for a “deal”? Are you comparing Farm Share & CSA prices to the grocery store?
People who fully embrace the Farm Share/CSA model don’t look for their membership to be a “deal” or a bargain. And they don’t compare the Farm Share/CSA experience to the grocery store price table. Read that again. This is a really key point.
It is absolutely understandable to ask, “How much does it cost?” And to then weigh the pros and cons. Supporting a Farm Share/CSA financially, however, is not just about doing a cost analysis of each item you receive in your bundle and comparing it to what you’d pay at Dillons or Costco. Our bounty and meats have added value because every one of our items is telling a story. Not just the story of how the food was raised, how it was harvested, or what struggles it faced to come to your plate.
Not just the story of the farmer and how you help them live out their calling to the land.
Every item is also telling YOUR unfolding story. Our bounty becomes a means to an end: showcasing your journey with food. They are the starring attraction in your quest to master your kitchen space and prepare a delicious meal to rival any restaurant fare — a meal you can be proud of. This is not something any grocery store can give you.
Farm Share/CSA customers appreciate this added value of our product, and are willing to pay a premium for it.So if you’re saying to yourself, “Well that’s more than we’d pay at _____” ~ you may want to consider a different path for obtaining your food.
How’d you do?
Would you like to ask more questions about our Farm Share/CSA or other opportunities of how to support locals without a Farm Share? Let’s talk.
Remember, a Farm Share/CSA is just one model out there for getting fresh farmer food onto your table. For those who value the story, the journey, and the farmer relationship behind the food, it can be a great option that can change the way you eat forever.
But there’s no shame in passing on Farm Share/CSA and instead buying weekly from my Farm Market. And that may in fact be a better fit to your style or needs.
As in all things, expectations determine how you experience the product. To set you up for Farm Share/CSA success, make sure your expectations align with the philosophy of CSA before you commit.