Are you thinking of ways to provide healthier meals to your family? Consider signing up for a CSA! It’s a terrific way to buy farm-fresh produce loaded with nutritious vitamins and minerals. If you want to learn more about the idea before you commit, here are some tips about finding a CSA box in your area.

What Is a CSA?

A selection of fresh vegetables at a local farmer's market.

Image via Flickr by Tracy Keller

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is when a farmer offers “shares” or boxes of food to the public. Typically it consists of fruits and vegetables and other products like honey or eggs. You buy a subscription for a share, and in return, you get a container of produce periodically throughout the growing season. Subscriptions are purchased weekly or for the entire year. In most cases, the harvester decides what produce goes into your box, but some CSA’s operate “market style” and allow members to decide for themselves.

The Benefits of Joining a CSA

For the last quarter-century, CSAs have increased in popularity since it’s a terrific way for people to buy seasonal food directly from the grower. This arrangement can be quite rewarding, offering benefits like:

  • Better nutritional quality: With a CSA, you get regular access to fresh food packed with flavor, vitamins, and minerals. Most produce in a CSA box is harvested the same day. Plus, some farms are organically certified, and most steer clear of GMOs.
  • More affordable organic shopping: While your membership may be more expensive than buying that cucumber at the grocery store, if you tend to buy organic produce or shop at health food outlets, you could cut down on costs by joining a CSA. Also, harvesters offer deals on end-of-season bulk produce, which is the perfect time to stock up your freezer.
  • Improved healthy eating habits: America’s children are facing a health crisis like never before. As many as 57% of kids will face obesity by the time they reach their mid-30s. When you stock your fridge with healthy options, everyone in the family is less likely to indulge in high-calorie snacks. When you teach your kiddos healthy habits that will last a lifetime.
  • Knowing where your meals come from: In today’s society, we’ve become less connected to our food sources, and knowing who’s growing it is important. With a membership, you can develop a relationship with your farmer, and you and the kids can even visit and tour the fields. Some growers even encourage their members to volunteer from time to time.

How Can You Find a CSA in Your Neighborhood?

There are many online resources you can use to find a CSA in your area, including:

  • Local HarvestThis site offers the most comprehensive directory of real food providers all over the country. It touts over 4,000 listings and is considered the best source for finding locally grown produce, meat, and eggs by users.
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture: This government website has a Local Food Directory page for CSAs. All you have to do is put in your zip code and an inventory of local CSA’s pops up. You can also consult their directory for markets and other local food resources, too.
  • Farmshares.InfoThis online directory allows you to search for CSAs all around Colorado as well as Wyoming, Utah, and Idaho.

In addition to these online resources, consider visiting your local farmers market to speak to produce vendors there about any CSA subscriptions they might be offering or any they may know of.

Is CSA Right for Your Family?

While looking for your new CSA, remember that it’s essential to find one that fits your family’s financial and nutritional goals. Here are several points to consider when choosing a CSA for your family:

  • Cost: Depending on the grower’s policy, you can pay weekly, in full, or in installments throughout the season. Prices can range from as low as $12 per week, up to $50, and the cost is usually non-refundable. Some people believe that it’s less expensive to purchase your products at the supermarket, but that’s not always true. Keep your receipts and take an honest look at how much you’re spending each month and make sure your budget has room to prepay for your goodies.
  • Unpredictability: You may not always know what you’re going to get in your share, making meal planning a bit more complicated. Most CSAs allow you to switch out certain items, particularly if you have food allergies. Your “normal” fruits and vegetables, like carrots, apples, and potatoes, will likely be gobbled up quickly. However, your family may not be able to use a pound of mushrooms, leeks, or other veggies you don’t eat often. If a box is too unpredictable for you, a CSA might not be the right fit for you.
  • Creativity: The spontaneity of each unique box may help you introduce new and exciting recipes into your family’s diet. If you don’t get to decide what’s in it, all the better — you have move out of the same old dinners and get creative in the kitchen. Some CSA groups send out emails that include a list of inventory, as well as a few recipes utilizing in-season ingredients they’re including in your box. Just make sure that you and your family, including particularly picky eaters, will try what they give you.
  • Convenience: Some CSA farmers deliver, while most require you to pick up your share. Some offer flexible hours, while many don’t. For some families, though, stopping by the farm and picking up a box that’s ready to go might even be more convenient than walking around the grocery store. If you enjoy spending time in the grocery store’s produce department, squeezing and sniffing your choices on the shelf, then a less-frequent CSA box might be better.

There you go! Creme de la Creme of Lone Tree, Colorado, just provided you with tons of information about CSAs. What do you think? Is this a program you want to try? If you have any questions or if we missed anything, we’d love to know.