There’s nothing quite like biting into a super fresh, crisp, delicious vegetable. We all want healthy options when we’re shopping for ingredients, whether we’re looking for healthy snacks for the kids or components of a meal we have planned. These days, though, it’s harder than ever to find time to shop for produce, and those convenient store-bought varieties don’t always deliver in terms of taste.

Enter CSAs, a unique way of stocking up on locally grown veggies while supporting area farmers. Crème de la Crème of Alpharetta (Nesbit Ferry Road) put together this guide to getting in on the wholesome goodness of CSAs right here in our area.

What Is a CSA?

An amazing haul of fresh vegetables from a local Georgia farmers market.

Image via Flickr by gmtbillings

The term CSA simply stands for “community-supported agriculture.” When you join a CSA, you pay ahead of time. Then, farms provide you with a share of their harvest all season long.

A farmer will offer a certain amount of “shares” to the public, and each share will usually include a box of vegetables. A share is basically a subscription or membership, just for delicious veggies instead of the things you usually associate with membership services. In return for your share, you get a box (or a basket or bag) of seasonal produce every week during the farming season.

The typical CSA structure asks members to pay upfront. That allows growers to earn an income during the seasons of preparation and planting. If that structure doesn’t work for your needs, though, you can look for a CSA that offers a payment plan. You may need to pay more for that privilege, but you can find the right balance between flexibility and price to fit best with what your family needs.

The Benefits of Joining a CSA

Joining a CSA offers an abundance of advantages. Some of the benefits include:

  • Getting easy access to super fresh foods: You can treat your family to vegetables (and other produce depending on the CSA you pick) that you know are incredibly fresh. Some CSAs even offer organic foods.
  • Sharing new ways of cooking: Did you get a veggie you’ve never used before in this week’s box? It’s the perfect opportunity to learn a new recipe while sharing that experience with the kids.
  • Developing a relationship with someone who gets your food from the ground to your plate: Buying produce at the supermarket works fine, but it’s an impersonal experience. By joining a CSA, you’ll get to know the farmers who produce your food.

CSAs even get ultra-fresh food to areas considered food deserts, so they’re really transforming the way families everywhere can interact with their food.

How to Find a CSA Box in Your Area

Once you’re ready to join a CSA, you need to locate farms close to you. The website makes finding the right CSA incredibly easy. The website is free, so most farmers use it. Just click and search for CSAs near Alpharetta!

Then, check out the pickup site window to figure out if a CSA box you find fits with your needs. Farms usually offer pickup windows at set times each week, so make sure to look at both timing and location.

Is Joining a CSA Right for You?

Consider your needs when signing up for a CSA. Some families love the adventure that comes with sharing farming risk. In other words, you may get more of one vegetable you weren’t planning to use while getting less of something you were looking forward to receiving. If you find the surprise intriguing and want to use your CSA box as inspiration for crafting unexpected wholesome meals, you can jump right into the classic CSA structure. You’ll get pre-packaged boxes that way.

If, however, take-what-you-get packages give you pause, you can think about some alternatives to that typical structure. Some CSAs now offer market-style or mix-and-match options. You can select what you want to put in your bag or box from a variety of offerings they have in a given week. Try using “free choice” or “market shares” as keywords if you’re searching for that type of CSA.

Some other tips for maximizing your CSA experience include:

  • Think about how much you need: Are you prepping vegetarian foods for the whole family or making a green smoothie each morning? Are you a new cook who’s not sure what to use? Maybe you’re just not used to having tons of veggies on hand. If you don’t think you can use so many vegetables at one time, try a CSA that offers half-shares or partners you with someone else who wants to split a full share.
  • Check the offerings ahead of time: If you really want access to a particular ingredient (or the kids are picky eaters), check the grower’s list ahead of time — even if you want something expected, like heirloom tomatoes. You can ask the grower questions so you know you’re only committing to a CSA that will really plant your family’s favorites.
  • Opt in for more: You’re already going to schedule a pickup into your routine. Consider joining a CSA that offers a range of farm-fresh foods that goes beyond what grows in the ground. Sometimes farmers offer products together to get members a bigger variety of goods. For example, you might look for CSAs that include products like cheese, flowers, fruits, homemade bread, or jams.
  • Get in on the community feeling: What better way to introduce the kids to a like-minded community than with a CSA? While some CSAs just get you freshly grown food, others making building a community part of the mission. If you want to broaden your experience, check with a potential provider about activities like farm dinners, potlucks, or workshops you can enjoy with your family.
  • Consider payment options: Just as options for CSAs have expanded in recent years, payment possibilities have increased as well. You can take advantage of many CSAs that offer payment plans these days. You’ll even find some CSAs that accept SNAP/EBT for payment.

So now that you have found the CSA that works best for you, what veggies are you and your kids looking forward to trying from your local CSA?