If you’re looking for a way to bring more wholesome fruits and vegetables to your family’s table, you’ll want to consider joining a CSA. The boxes you’ll get translate to easy access to super fresh, delicious produce that helps support local farmers.

Of course, joining a CSA for the first time can feel intimidating if you don’t know what to expect. Crème de la Crème of Mesa put together this guide for finding a CSA box in the area to take the guesswork out of the experience.

What Is a CSA and How Does It Work?

Carrots, oranges, peppers, and ginger root from a CSA box in Mesa, AZ

sliced orange fruit besides green and orange vegetable” used with permission via Unsplash by joshmillgate

CSA is an acronym that means “community-supported agriculture.” Those words get to the essence of the whole CSA experience. All in all, CSAs provide ways for consumers to shop for seasonally fresh, local foods, directly from farmers.

While folks have shopped directly from farmers as long as people have farmed, that can seem like a novel concept in today’s busy world. Instead of squeezing in trips to the supermarket or ordering groceries from huge online stores, you get to support a real, local farmer by joining a CSA. The big innovation of the CSA structure is how it distributes risk and reward for the whole community. Here’s how CSAs usually work:

A farm offers a set number of “shares” for the public to buy. Local consumers then buy their share, which is like a subscription or membership to the farm. In return for your share, you’ll get your CSA box (or basket or bag, depending on your farm!) at set intervals throughout the farming season. CSA memberships often get you weekly boxes. Some CSAs offer options to customize your box, and some offer different share sizes to better accommodate individual needs and varying family sizes.

Your CSA box will contain the harvest produce from the week. Some CSAs also offer an option to add on other products, such as artisanal honey or bread, herbs, soaps, and more. You may also be able to get cheese, eggs, and other animal products depending on the CSA you choose.

When you sign up for a CSA, you’ll get a scheduled pick-up time and place. Pick-up locations are usually at the farm itself or other places around the community. You can even find CSAs that will deliver your box right to your door.

Why Should You Join a CSA?

CSAs provide cash flow for farmers, and farmers also get the chance to better know their communities and consumers. But what’s in it for you?

Consumers reap considerable benefits from joining a CSA. You can look forward to advantages like:

  • Access to produce that comes direct from the farm: All your produce is incredibly fresh since it comes straight from a local farm. That also translates to tastier, healthier produce than what you’ll find in the supermarket or via online delivery services.
  • Knowing where your food comes from: The close relationship you build with a local farm means you know exactly where your food is coming from. You get to meet the farmers who grow your food and see where your money goes. Many farms give CSA members a chance to visit farms so you can see that the workers all receive fair treatment and that the farm follows beneficial environmental practices. Bonus points? Kids tend to love this hands-on experience, and knowing their very own farmer might just be the extra inspiration they need to try that new fruit or veggie!
  • Comparatively inexpensive produce: Don’t ignore the up-front investment — a summer share can cost a few hundred dollars, and that can certainly seem like a lot when you join a CSA for the first time. However, when you consider the quality, variety, and amount of produce you’ll usually get, a CSA box becomes relatively inexpensive.
  • Added convenience: The upfront investment also adds convenience to your shopping routine. You don’t have to head to the store and search for all the produce you need. Instead, you’ll just go to pick up your weekly box, which has all the choices made for you.
  • Better access to organic products: CSAs offer an alternative to industrialized agriculture. Even if you don’t go with a farm that is certified organic, most produce that comes from CSAs is grown using some organic standards. Becoming USDA-certified organic can present an obstacle in terms of cost, so smaller farms don’t always opt for official certification even though they offer organic produce. You can usually check the CSA website or ask the farmers directly if you’re curious about their growing practices.
  • A chance to get creative: Less control over the produce you get each week might seem like a drawback at the start. However, CSAs provide the perfect way to discover new fruits and vegetables you (and your kids!) might not try otherwise. That funny-looking veggie can inspire new recipes. Consider it a family adventure, and have fun trying out whatever shows up in your box each week together. If you’re really stuck, you can also often get recipe ideas from the farm.

How Can You Find a CSA Box Near Mesa?

So, you’re ready to join a CSA. How do you find one close to home that works for you? You can ask farmers at a local farmers market or other local friends or just plug your zip code into the Local Harvest website to find CSAs near you.

For example, Agritopia Farm is a gorgeous certified-organic farm in nearby Gilbert. The farm offers seasonal CSA boxes in different sizes. Then there’s Blue Sky Organic Farms based in Litchfield Park. With a few pick-up locations less than a half hour’s drive from Mesa, it’s easy to enjoy the certified organic produce this farm grows.

Make sure you check the schedule for pick-up or delivery to ensure you’re signing up for something that works for your schedule. You should also consider a share size you can actually use so all that produce doesn’t go to waste. You might consider a half-share if your chosen farm offers it to start. If not, you can always see if a friend or neighbor would share your weekly box with you.That wraps up Crème de la Crème of Mesa’s guide to finding a CSA box in our area. Do you have a tip for local families unsure of how they’ll use all the items they get in their weekly box? Drop us a line so we can share your advice!