Monday, November 23, 2009

Re: Who wants to join a CSA?

I've been meaning to post a response to Drew's piece and finally found some time with the slow work week. Here's the ugly/wonderful truth about CSAs.

Firstly, I'm a current shareholder in a CSA in Balch Springs (more to come in a later post complete with pictures, interviews, thought, etc.). Investing in a CSA is much more difficult than simply saying "if I pay x amount, then I get x amount of food." It's not the grocery store, it's real life, and real life depends on sunshine and rain. Any guarantees made by a farmer should be taken with the utmost caution.

In the CSA formula, the farmer is the most important variable as this is where your investment is going. The idea is that with your investment money, the farmer can devote 100% of his/her time to growing quality food for you instead of spending a significant share of their time and resources marketing themselves at farmer's markets, restaurants, etc. What your investment money can't do is change the weather by importing peppers from Holland (that's what super markets are for).

Drew highlighted a local CSA, Tucker Farms. Here's a line straight from their website:

Be aware that buying a share is not an iron-clad guarantee of vegetables every week. If a freak storm or bad drought destroys the crops, there may be little to “share.” And usually, there’s no money back guarantee. It’s a shared risk.

That's about as clear cut as it gets, but I'd like to add to it this:

"WE LIVE IN NORTH TEXAS. When was the last time we went for a year without a freak storm or drought? And there's NEVER a money back guarantee. Also, if you don't like eating leafy greens in the winter, you'll need to move south of the equator or go to the grocery store, because that's a big part of what grows in the winter in real life!"

All I'm saying is that you shouldn't expect a 1/2 bushel of anything if it rains over 24" in a month (like it did way back in........oh yeah, October).

Ok, now that I'm done scaring you, I want to tell you why I am (and why you should be, if it's right for you) in a CSA.

1. I love my farm and my farmer.
I believe in supporting local businesses, in reducing my impact on the environment, and eating quality organic produce. My farm and my farmer enable me to do all of the above. In addition, my farmer can answer questions that the produce guy at the grocery store can't. She can tell me definitively when and how what I'm eating was produced and how I can grow some of it at home (should you be in to that sort of thing).

2. Nothing tastes better than produce picked that day.

3. I get to try new things.
Apparently we don't get to see but a fraction of the total catalog of edible produce in the super market. It's all dictated by huge supplier's profits on common, popular fruits and veggies. Your local farmers don't believe in that kind of thing. They plant stuff you've never heard of in addition to the regular stuff. And very typically plant unfamiliar varieties of things you have heard of. They're all good.

4. If you want farming to go back to its roots, you have to be part of the solution.
My farmer can't compete with the huge producers, no more than you or I could. But, when you can gather some like-minded folks to help share the risks of the single farmer, that farmer can flourish in their own right. It's an amazing concept (not surprising that everyone in the Northeast and on the West Coast are way ahead of us on the concept, but we're catching on!!).

5. While Whole Foods might be organic, this stuff is ridiculously organic.
Hand plowing, hand weeding, on-site irrigation, natural & organic pest control. This is so environmentally friendly, it's ridiculous. My farm has a homemade wind and solar-powered water pump. How cool is that?

A good resource for finding a CSA in your hood is Just be sure to know what you're getting into. Things you need to do/decide:
  1. If the Fall is rained out and there's a drought in the Summer, will I be going hungry because I spent all my grocery money on the CSA? (The answer should be no.)
  2. Am I willing to share with friends and/or learn how to can food lest the occasional onslaught of food go to waste? (When the weather is nice, folks have been known to have more food than they know what to do with. This is, of course, a good thing.)
  3. Can I cook or am I at least willing to try? (If you can't, what are you going to do with all these veggies?)
  4. What crops will be produced and when? (You may get sick of eating the same things over and over during certain seasons, but, again, this is real life - nothing is grown year-round like it is in your nearest super market.)
  5. Is "Organic" important to me? (Not all CSAs are organic.)
  6. Is "Local" important to me? (If you're joining CSA, it should be).
  7. Are you grossed out by people talking about locally-raised, grass-fed meat and raw milk? (You shouldn't be because CSA farmers generally run in circles with the folks who produce those products and often offer their products at additional costs to their shareholders. I think it's a wonderful thing - I just join the other vegans on my farm by not purchasing their goods.)
  8. Commit to visiting the farm before joining and understanding how things are done.
  9. Commit to meeting the farmer before joining - this is where your investment is actually going!!!

Ok, all done. Now get out there and eat local (after some research, of course).


o. said...

I just got in with an organic/local food co-op in Denton. First big, bountiful order came in today! Check out Willow Bend Garden Cooperative if you're in the area.

Eden's Gardener - Marie said...

I love growing your food! Thank you so much for your support and kind words on this blog. It really means a lot to small, independent farmers to know we have folks like you out there who share our vision for the future of local farms. Your support also means we can devote 100% of our time to farming and not working 3 other jobs to make ends meet.

I hope to grow this farm large enough that one day maybe we can feel more confident about "promising" certain amounts of shares, too. But for now, we're grateful for those who choose to dig in and help us from the ground up, so to speak.

ps- our tomatoes are hanging tough in the hoop house so far with these freezes....pray for some sunshine now so they'll ripen up on the vine and be tasty!