Your Guide to CSA Programs—And Why You Should Join One

If you love fresh produce and supporting local farmers, then you need to know about CSA programs.

For fresh, seasonal produce, I’ll often head to my local farmers market. And while it’s soothing to spend a Saturday morning strolling through rows of rhubarb stalks and radicchio, sometimes I wish there was an easier way to pick my produce.

Well, it turns out there is. Say hello to Community Supported Agriculture.

What is Community Supported Agriculture?

Commonly known as CSA, Community Supported Agriculture is a program where farmers sell shares of their harvest directly to locals.

CSA members oftentimes pay for an entire season’s worth of produce up front, then receive boxes of farm-fresh fruits and veggies throughout the growing season. (Some farms also offer honey, meat, bread and eggs).

What are the benefits of CSA?

For farmers, CSA programs provide a reliable source of income at the beginning of the growing season. They don’t have to wait until the crop is harvested to make some money.

And for the members, CSA programs provide an opportunity to try new things.

Lara Eucalano, Taste of Home Associate Editor, has been a CSA member for 8 years. “The main benefit of a CSA is that we get to try vegetables we absolutely would not pick up at a grocery store or farmers market,” she said. “And they taste really good.”

These recipes will help you use up your CSA box.

Plus, the program helps creates a tangible relationship between farmer and consumer. Lara volunteers on her farm in exchange for a bi-weekly box of produce. Over time, she’s gotten to know the farm’s owners, workers and other volunteers. “It’s cool because you’re eating produce from people you know,” Lara said.

Not to mention, there’s also a greater understanding of where your food comes from. “I understand the whole arduous process of what it takes to go from a seed to a cucumber in the kitchen…and I don’t think about that when I’m at the grocery store.” (Use up your own cucumbers in these tasty summer recipes.)

Are there any risks?

One of the most striking aspects of CSA programs is that they typically revolve around “shared risk.” That means the farmer isn’t the only one impacted by droughts, floods or a poor growing season.

Since CSA members pay up front, they share in the disappointment when a harvest isn’t fruitful.

A few years ago, Lara’s CSA farm was hit with a major heat wave. “They just gave us what they could,” she says. “The vegetables were smaller than they usually were, but how can you be mad? The weather is affecting this person’s livelihood, and you feel a little piece of it.”

How to get involved:

To find a CSA program in your community, start by using resources from the CSA Coalition. You can also visit a local market and ask farmers if they offer a share program.

Katie Bandurski
As Senior Shopping Editor, Katie connects Taste of Home readers with the best gifts, deals and home products on the market. An avid foodie and a holiday enthusiast, Katie is an expert at cultivating meaningful moments. When she’s out of the office, you’ll find her exploring Wisconsin, trying out new vegetarian recipes and watching Christmas movies.