How to Choose a CSA: End the Confusion and Eat Locally

We love the idea of a farm-fresh box of fruits and veggies effortlessly making its way into our kitchen each week by way of a CSA (community supported agriculture). But choosing to join a CSA isn't quite as easy as browsing the produce section of your local market or hitting up a farm stand. Joining a CSA requires commitment both monetarily and time-wise, in the kitchen and for weekly pickups. 

Of course, once you get your first box of tiny local greens, tiny strawberries or perfect summer tomatoes, it really is all worth it. And if you're looking to incorporate a great variety of local, seasonal, sustainable produce into your diet, a CSA is the best way to go. If you're looking to join a CSA in your area, here are a few pointers on making the best choice for your local produce needs.

In our experience, many CSAs don't have the best web presence, so seeking out the right one for you can be a little challenging. Local Harvest is a great place to start. All you have to do is punch in your zip code and the site will give you a list of all of the CSAs available in your area, some of which are reviewed by community members. 

Another option is to get in touch with food-minded friends, especially those who have been members of CSAs in previous years. They'll be able to give you a realistic idea of which CSA best suits your needs.

Before deciding on a CSA in your area, consider your produce needs. If your busy schedule prevents you from doing a lot of cooking and veggies tend to languish in the crisper, you might be better off sticking with the farmers' market. On the other hand, if you are packing lunches and making dinner most days, your CSA share can really spice things up when in comes to trying out new and exciting fruits and veggies. Take the time to figure out just how much produce you go through in a week. Factors include the number of people in your household and your family's eating habits. Do you make a salad every night? How many of your dinners include vegetable sides? Get a general idea of what sort of CSA needs you have before ...

Choosing your share. Most CSAs will divide shares into halves or even quarters. Full shares include a pretty serious amount of produce, perhaps more than a two-person household can go through in a week. Consider splitting a share with friends. Not only will that offset the cost, but you can also alternate pickups. Along with vegetables, many CSAs offer fruit, dairy, meat and even flower and medicinal herb options.

The next step is to figure out the logistics.  Locating a CSA with a convenient drop-off point, day and time will assure that getting to your share doable. For instance, those with busy schedules might not be able to accommodate a farm that delivers Tuesdays at 11 a.m.  Make a note of when your CSA season begins and ends.  Most begin in May and last until September or even October, but those living in warmer climes can look forward to even longer CSA seasons.  

Once you've made your CSA decision, it's time to break out the cookbooks! More likely than not, you're going to be met with many fruits and vegetables that you wouldn't regularly purchase, and that means finding new recipes. Dealing with new-to-you produce means familiarizing yourself with the best way to prepare your personal haul of local, sustainable and delicious fruits and vegetables from your CSA.

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