If you follow me on Instagram, you might have seen my countless Instagram Stories that revolve around vegetables and fruits - specifically the ones I get from our local CSA. Whenever I post something, I actually get quite a few questions about it (What's a CSA? Why did you sign up?) and some surprise at my extreme veggie love, so I thought I"d put together a post to explain a little.
What is a CSA crop share?
CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, which is a business model that closely connects farmers to their local consumers within the community. Members of the community sign up for "crop shares" from the farm, typically weekly or bi-weekly, by paying an up-front cost for the upcoming season(s). Then, during that season, people either visit the farm to pick up their produce, pick it up from a designated spot, or have it delivered directly to their home (rare).
Sometimes this gives the farm initial capital that can help off-set the costs of doing business, and it also invests the community in the well-being and goings-on of the farm.
Why sign up for a crop share?
I receive many questions from people about why we chose to sign up for a crop share, most citing that it seems like a hassle and/or they assume it's expensive (especially because ours is from an organic farm). There are actually a handful of reasons, all of them very important to my family.
When you buy produce from a grocery store, you're generally buying something that was harvested a week or two ago (sometimes more). Meanwhile, we pick up our crop share on a Tuesday and it was usually harvested on Monday, the day before. We're receiving our food at its peak freshness, meaning it's full of high-quality nutrients and the best flavor. First and foremost, we subscribed to the CSA to feed our family the best possible fruits and vegetables!
And, trust me, when your toddler reaches for the veggies on his own and loves them, you know they're tasty.
Maybe it's because I grew up in Naples, Italy and then Columbiana, Ohio, but supporting local farmers is extremely important to me. In Italy, our house was directly beside a massive expanse of fruit orchards (I admit, I snuck over the wall now and then as a young kid). That fruit was harvested and sold at the Thursday farmer's market down the street. We had direct interaction with the families growing our fresh food, and I didn't realize until later how rare that is.
Later, living in a rural and very agricultural area in Ohio, where some of my family and friends count themselves as farmers (or grew up as farmers), I learned the significance of supporting this industry. When you buy from a local farmer, your money is going to a hard-working family, and then likely right back into the community. I personally consider it vital that smaller and independent farms continue operating within our communities.
By supporting local, we are also cutting down on the carbon footprint of the food we eat. It's not traveling great distances, wasting natural resources and adding unnecessary pollution to the air. We are also supporting a farm that is invested in sustainability (it's their land AND their livelihood).
It's funny that so many people comment on how expensive the program must be, when it has actually cut down on our weekly grocery bill! The cost will vary based on your area and what's included, but we receive quite the bounty (huge box containing a variety of vegetables, a separate box of fruit, and eggs every other week) for under $50/week. As a result, we only supplement with a few odds and ends, some dried goods, and our additional protein.
Not only is it very reasonably priced (for organic!), but the produce stays fresh and tasty all week, which means we don't waste it.
Finally, an added perk is that we're all trying new things. Each share includes what's currently in season at the time, which means the contents change from week to week, and you might be treated to something you've never tried before. For instance, one of my new favorite veggies is chard. I'd heard of it previously, but I had never (knowingly) eaten it. We got it one week and I cooked it using one of the supplied recipes (recipes are included in many CSA programs!), and it is now a major favorite that I occasionally buy from the store.
Our Crawford Organics Experience
Living in the Philadelphia suburbs, we had our choice of several different crop share programs, but ultimately decided on Crawford Organics, out in Lancaster. I love that it's a family-run farm and that they're organic, and I can't say enough wonderful things about the experience we've had.
First, the logistics are really well thought out. They recycle/re-use all the packaging, so the boxes are either sturdy waxed cardboard or small wooden crates. I pick our share up from a local coffee shop (win!) during other errands, and they have a huge number of drop-off sites, so there are many convenient options for everyone in our community.
Second, and most important, the produce is amazing. I've honestly never tasted anything quite as good as a truly fresh watermelon (heaven!) or sweet, melt-in-your-mouth blackberries. And, as I said above, even our toddler raves about the vegetables. We eat a largely plant-based diet (not vegans/vegetarians, just love vegetables and fruits!), so being able to include so many different items that genuinely taste amazing is quite a treat.
And third, Crawford Organics sends out a weekly newsletter that includes our list for the upcoming week, but also a good bit of information about the process behind our food. I love learning about the details, and I also love showing my son the pictures to help him understand where and how his food is grown. On that note, too, the farm welcomed visitors earlier this summer, so that people could see everything up-close and learn.
If you're able, logistically and financially, I highly encourage you to consider signing up for a CSA program near you. If you're in the Philadelphia area, you absolutely must check out Crawford Organics!