Image via Pixabay by JillWellington

Over the past few years, many people have become involved in community-supported agriculture or CSA. When you are involved in CSA, you typically shop at farmers markets, get products from local farms, and check where your produce, groceries, and other goods are made. But there are other great ways to embrace a CSA lifestyle, like getting box-delivery services that offer regular shipments of fresh, locally sourced produce. Some CSA services deliver random assortments of produce, while other companies allow customers to pick and choose which items they get.

Here’s what you need to know about CSAs, including the benefits, how to find one in your area, and how to choose the best CSA option for your family.

What Are the Benefits of a CSA?

Depending on your family’s needs, you can invest in a CSA program instead of doing your standard grocery shopping or do it in addition to going to the grocery store. Some people opt for CSAs because they want to save money and spend less time grocery shopping. Other people want to build up local farmers in their communities. Every family has their own reasons for choosing this option to get their produce, but a few common perks include:

  • You are supporting local farmers. Instead of buying produce that’s grown out-of-state or abroad, you’re investing in your local economy by purchasing and eating food grown nearby.
  • You can encourage your family to eat more produce. When you have a plethora of delicious fruits and vegetables available in your house, you and your family are better able to eat more produce and fewer processed foods. This can help increase your energy levels and ensure you get the vitamins and nutrients you need.
  • You can try new foods. You may get produce that you’ve never tried before, like fennel, kohlrabi, and butternut squash. Your next vegetable delivery could have your future favorite food in it!
  • You’re helping the environment. Buying locally means fewer vegetables are shipped long distances, cutting back on carbon emissions. You can also protect the environment if your CSA sells produce from organic farms, meaning no harsh chemicals are used in fertilizers and other preservatives.
  • You can save time. If your CSA is delivered, then you spend less time in the grocery store. Even if you have to pick up your box, it can be faster than shopping for items individually.
  • You can save money. Many CSAs offer produce at cheaper rates than chain grocery stores, which means eating healthier becomes more affordable.

How Can You Find a CSA Near You?

With a little research and some trial and error, you can find a CSA program near you that meets your family’s needs.

LocalHarvest is a great resource for finding CSAs and other local produce near you. This website highlights the nearest pickup location and cost for joining. Start by selecting the type of service you want (CSA, u-pick, farmers markets, co-ops, etc.) and submitting your city or zip code. For example, there are 13 listings under CSAs in the Ashburn area! Some options last all year, while others are seasonal. People can also leave reviews and advice to help other residents choose the best CSA for their needs.

Additionally, you can look up different local farms, like Loudoun Farms, to see if they contribute to any CSAs, or talk to a few vendors at a nearby farmer’s market and see if they know any or recommend a particular co-op to work with.

If you are having a hard time finding CSA in your area, you may need to expand to a state-wide search if there is nothing in your city. Using CSA may be less-frequent for you and your family, but you’re still able to contribute to local farmers and get the fresh produce you love.

How Do You Know if CSA Is Right for Your Family?

As you look through your various options, you may find some CSAs that meet your needs and others that you aren’t sure about. If you live in an area with multiple CSAs, then you can experiment to find out what features can help your family. Here are some things to consider when searching for CSAs in your area:

  • Pick-up versus delivery: You may have time every week to pick up your box, or you may be too busy to run out for it, so you need to have the box delivered to you. Look for CSAs with the option that works best for you and your family’s schedule.
  • Box size and frequency: The size of your family may determine just how much produce you need and how often. If your family goes through fruits and veggies quickly, a weekly box may be best. But if you only need a small amount to get by, consider getting a smaller amount or only ordering every other week. The best way to figure out what your family needs is to try a service and certain amounts and frequencies.
  • Add-on options: Some CSAs partner with local dairy farms, bakeries, and apiaries to offer additional grocery items like local eggs, butter, milk, meat, and honey.
  • Duration: Some CSAs are only seasonal because that’s when produce is available. Others run all year long but may bring in produce from other states or regions.
  • Work requirements: Some CSAs ask members to volunteer a few hours at the farm to help with production. If you and your family have time to volunteer, it’d be a great way to help your children develop valuable life skills and learn more about where their food comes from.

Ask around to see if anyone you know uses a CSA. See if they recommend the service and if there is anything they wish could be improved. You can also look for CSAs that offer trial periods to see if they are right for you.

In Ashburn, we are incredibly lucky to have multiple CSA options to choose from and multiple local farms that you can support. If you have a favorite farm or grocery delivery service, let us know! At Crème de la Crème of Port Potomac, VA., we are always looking for new ways to support the local community and teach kids healthy eating and culinary habits.