A few summers ago we had friends come to stay with us from out of town. When planning and making hostess plans, our friends asked if it would be ok if they brought their CSA share, as they were due to pick it up the day they were driving to see us. Not entirely sure what they meant by this I just went along with it and said “of course, bring anything you want.”
Upon arriving, our friends unloaded an enormous bag full of fresh produce, including different lettuces, a variety of herbs, purple carrots, fingerling potatoes, mushrooms and much more. I was intrigued and a tiny bit perplexed; where did this all come from and what were we going to do with it? Needless to say we feasted on this farm fresh goodness all weekend long for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I loved eating so healthily, I felt good and I was on board! The next summer my family joined a CSA.
What is a CSA?
For those of you that may not know what a CSA is, it stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Basically, it’s a farm share, allowing consumers to buy local, seasonal produce directly from a farmer in their community. By putting money up front for their membership, consumers support a farmer’s crop for the year and in exchange, receive weekly boxes of local, fresh and seasonal produce. The typical season in Wisconsin starts in mid-June and continues through the end of October (with some farmers offering winter or year-round shares).
For me, becoming a CSA member was a challenge I was eager to take on. This challenge included that as a family we eat everything we were given, even vegetables I had never heard of (and yes, actually there were one or two). Many of you will probably relate to what I refer to as a vegetable rut. We had been stuck in one for a long time. I have two young children and we had gotten into the habit of eating lots of carrots, bell peppers and frozen vegetables. Joining a CSA definitely expanded our repertoire, and that continued throughout the rest of the year when I was buying produce from the grocery store. We continued to buy a greater variety of vegetables year long.
If you are thinking about joining a CSA here some things to consider:
Our CSA came with recipes which were extremely helpful to me. Each week members received an e-mail of what we could expect in our box along with a few recipes that included how to showcase that week’s offerings.
- Besides vegetables, some CSA’s offer other type of shares such as eggs, homemade bread, meat, cheese, fruit and flowers. We did an egg share and the farm fresh eggs were honestly the best we’ve had.
- Don’t be disappointed if the first few boxes of the year seem slight or less than what you had expected. It’s just the growing season in Wisconsin, especially if we have a wet and cold spring then things can get off to a slow start. I guarantee the abundance of the late summer and fall harvest will more than make up for a slimmer box in the beginning.
- Most CSA’s offer a variety of share options to fit your needs. Based on our family size we started off with half a share. The half share included all of the same things as a full share and still on a weekly basis but just in smaller portions. Many farms offer every-other week boxes or the option to split a box with another family (of your choosing). If you do choose to split, be aware that you will be the one doing the divvying up.
- Many CSA’s are box shares, meaning you get what the farm gives you each week. You must be willing to try new foods with this option and create your meals based on what you receive each week. Some CSA’s do offer more of a free choice/market style option, where you pick what you want so not to get stuck with a bunch of foods you won’t eat.
- See if your CSA has an open door policy. My kids enjoyed visiting our “farmer friend” to see where their food was coming from and say hi to the chickens in the yard. Some even offer special days where you can come visit the farm to learn about how the food is grown, how the animals are raised and essentially how a farm runs.
- Some CSA’s offer a work share program where you commit to working on the farm for a set number of hours per week in exchange for a share of the farm’s produce.
- If you want organic produce make sure you do your research on what the growing practices are for the different farms you are considering. Don’t assume all CSA’s are Certified-Organic, many are not. Some are Certified Naturally Grown, some use organic practices, some are GMO free and some do use chemicals. This is all information that should be available to you and if not, just ask.
Besides the wonderful produce you receive all summer long, a CSA is not just about the food. It’s about having a personal connection to the people that are producing your food, helping our local farmers be more financially secure and keeping money in our local communities. There’s also the benefit of not harming the environment by shipping food thousands of miles. I truly could go on and on about all the positives but really the best thing for me is that seasonal food grown locally just tastes better!
Find a CSA Near You
- Park Ridge Organics, LLC
N8410 Abler Road, Fond du Lac
- Riverview Gardens
1101 South Oneida Street, Appleton
- Oakridge Farms
125 Cty Rd CB, Neenah
- Triple B Produce
Mickel John Rd, New London
- Kellner Back Acre Garden
5561 Cooperstown Rd, Denmark
- Lotto’s Lazy Acres
N8282 County Road D, Algoma
- Produce With Purpose Farm
W2923 4th Street Road, Fond Du Lac
- Twin Elm Gardens
4356 Twin Elm Dr, Pulaski
For the 2020 season, Olden Produce in Ripon will only be offering Market Shares. They will not be offering the standard CSA shares that they have had in the past.