Did you know you have more options for getting fresh, local products than just your local grocery store? Sure, you can shop at farmers markets, but those aren’t always open every week or all year round, and they may not be as cost-effective. Another option you can try is a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program to get fresh produce from a local grower right after it’s harvested.

These programs can be cost-effective for families, introduce your family to produce and ingredients you may not have used before, and give back to the local economy. That’s why Crème de la Crème of Sugarloaf has put together this guide to teach you all about how a CSA program works, how to find one that meets your family’s needs, and where you can take part in one in the Duluth, Georgia, area.

What Is a CSA Box?

Image via Flickr by leyink Licensed CC BY 2.0

A CSA box is a membership or subscription to a local farm from which you’ll get a certain number of boxes full of fresh produce and other products throughout the subscription’s duration. You purchase a “share” of the farm’s next harvest up front, and your share helps pay for the seeds, fertilizer, equipment, and labor that it takes to keep a farm. 

Many CSA programs have the following features:

  • Participants get a random variety of produce.
  • Produce is grown without the use of harmful chemical pesticides and herbicides.
  • Shares must be picked up at the farm or at a designated location.
  • Boxes come in a few different sizes to accommodate different households.
  • Farms may request one or two volunteer days to help at the farm, and many welcome participants to visit the farm during their membership.
  • Participants cannot skip weeks or get refunds.

However, some farms do things a little differently and even have other cool features like:

  • Letting you pick some or all of the items in your box.
  • Providing recipe cards in the box or via a newsletter.
  • Giving you the option to add other products like honey, herbs, eggs, meats, and cheeses.
  • Offering delivery to your home.
  • Inviting you to special, members-only community events.
  • Allowing you to pay in increments, skip pickups, or even donate your box to someone in need.

How to Find a Local CSA Box

Since some farms offer a CSA box program that goes against the grain, it’s even more important to understand how to search for a CSA program and determine if it’s right for your family. Use the following tips to help you find the CSA program for you:

  • Determine how much you want in a box. The size you choose typically depends on how many people are in your family. Some farms will tell you how many people a specific share size is meant to feed. But keep in mind that the produce is so fresh, that you have to use it very soon after receiving it. If you’re just starting out, consider getting the smallest share so you can reduce food waste and keep it as cost-effective as possible. 
  • Know whether you’ll need more customization. If you’ve got a lot of picky eaters, you might want to look for a CSA box that allows you to choose which fruits, veggies, and other farm products you get. But if your family is less on the picky side, then you might consider getting a fully random CSA box to try out produce you don’t always pick up at the grocery store. That’s a great way to expand everyone’s palate. 
  • Ask around at local farmers markets. Head to your nearest farmers market to meet area growers and see if any of them offer a CSA program. For instance, you might go to the Duluth Farmers & Artisan Market in Downtown Duluth on the second Sunday of every month to see if the vendors offer a CSA or know another local grower that does. This is a great way to meet your potential CSA partners in person and see the quality of their customer service and produce before you sign up.
  • Search for programs on the internet. You can also use the power of the internet to find a local CSA program, especially one from a farm that doesn’t go to local farmers markets. Sites like LocalHarvest.org and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Local Food Directories allow you to enter your zip code or city and state and search through all available CSA programs. You can also search on your smartphone using the GrownBy app.
  • Review the program’s offerings and policies. As you search through multiple listings, be sure to read through the program’s policies, including how long the membership is, the box sizes and shipment dates, the payment options they accept, the delivery and pickup options, whether the box is customizable, the refund policy, and any other information you need to decide if it’s the right box for you. Read any reviews you find online, too.
  • Ask the farm questions. You should also reach out to the farm if you can’t find the answers you need or to see if they’re able to accommodate any special circumstances you have. For instance, you might try to work out some form of customization if you have food allergies in the family.

CSA Box Programs Offered in the Duluth Area

Here are some of the local CSA box programs in and around Duluth that you and your family should consider:

  • Rise ‘N’ Shine Farm: This farm’s CSA program is fully customizable, and you can add any assortment of available fresh produce, eggs, dairy, bread, and more. The produce is almost solely grown at the farm, while the eggs and other goods come from other area producers. This farm even delivers to your door and lets you choose your delivery frequency.
  • Fresh Harvest: This program is more like an online grocery ordering program that sources all of its products from local growers and ranchers. You get a weekly delivery of fresh produce, eggs, meats, and dairy, and you can add on stuff like vegetarian proteins and premade foods, too. 
  • Duluth Cottage Kitchen: Like the other two programs, the Duluth Cottage Kitchen offers a fully customizable box where you can get fresh fruits and veggies, jellies and jams, dried herbs and spices, and much more. 

So there you have it, a quick guide to finding and participating in a CSA box program in Duluth. Have you tried a local CSA program before? Did it work for your family? Let us know, and we’ll be sure to add that program to our growing list!