7 Surprises for A First Time CSA Farm Share Member

A few years ago, a friend gave me the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver. The book is basically Kingsolver’s account of attempting to eat local and in-season produce for an entire year. While that sounded ridiculously difficult for someone like me (and most of us), the sentiments of this book have stayed in the back of my mind—even a full decade later.

In late spring, I joined a family-run organic produce farm—my very first CSA Farm Share. My reasons for wanting to join a CSA were many; I wanted organic produce, I wanted to explore new vegetables that I wouldn’t ordinarily buy, and I wanted to support local farms and really bring the farm-to-table movement to my own home. It’s a small attempt to live as Kingsolver suggested — even if just for one summer.

Here are 7 things I’ve learned.

1. It’s More Than Kale!

Whew! When I told friends I was doing a farm share, some of them rolled their eyes and said, “Good luck eating all that kale.” But the wonderful truth is that in my third week, I got my first and only bunch of kale this season. It was the perfect amount too. Just enough for some shakes, soup, or a sauté.

2. You Don’t Have to Get A Full Share

I’ve considered joining a farm share more than once, but here’s the deal: My husband is less adventurous in trying new vegetables than I am, and my six-year-old decided somewhere around age four that he was going to be picky. I’d considered joining with a friend, but how precisely does one share a head of lettuce or an odd number of zucchini? The solution: Find a CSA that offers half shares. If it’s not advertised, call the farm directly as they might be willing to work with you. My CSA—Natural Earth Farms in Calverton—offers both full shares (6-10 items) and half shares (4-6 items).

3. It’s Actually Affordable

My half share cost $350 for twenty weeks. For those of you trying to figure out the math, it’s $17.50 a week (whereas a full share at Natural Earth Farms runs about $25 a week—or less than $3.50 a day—for twenty weeks). For me that’s roughly the cost of three lattes. When you break the cost down into weekly increments, it makes this whole idea not only affordable but a whole lot less risky. Maybe you’re like my friends and kale isn’t your thing—no big deal because you didn’t spend a fortune and you still have other varieties. Also, maybe your neighbor loves you, because you bring them what you don’t like—and if you have neighbors like mine, they’ll trade you something fresh from their garden.  It’s really all about community in the end.

4. You Can Start a CSA

Around the time that I was planning my own little vegetable garden, I was also thinking, “Hmmm, maybe I should look into a CSA.” It just so happened that while that thought percolated, I saw an advertisement in my company announcements about us being a location for the CSA pick-up. I literally don’t have to do more than walk across the campus and pick-up my share. This also led to the, “Why didn’t I think of starting one sooner?” moment. You, too, could start a CSA share in your community, neighborhood, church or office. This generally entails acting as a liaison between the farmer and your group as well as assisting with the distribution from the drop off site. I walk to an office, sign my name, and take my bag. It’s really that simple.

5. I’ve Never Heard of That

I was prepared for the lettuce, the kale, the cucumbers and zucchini. But I have to confess that I was pretty worried about the produce that I’d never heard of (you know the stuff at your local organic produce market that you walk past because honestly—what the heck do you do with that?). I was also a little excited to conquer the unknown. The first weird thing I got was red lettuce, which was a subtle push into the adventure. It was delicious and colorful and, of course, I know how to use lettuce. Then came the garlic scapes, the kohlrabi and swiss chard. While I know swiss chard isn’t that eccentric, I can’t say it’s ever made it on my shopping list—until now. Sautéed in garlic oil, red pepper flakes and a little lemon, it has become new obsession. That was, in fact, the point of this as I mentioned—exploring new food.

6. Benefits of Social Media

Being a CSA member, means that I receive weekly emails stating what I can expect in each week’s share plus produce guides, tips (like storage and prepping), and recipe suggestions. I was also added to a closed FB group where other members share creative recipes. I shared a zucchini bundt cake recipe last week and kind of felt like a rock star with the amount of likes I got. It brings it back to the important piece of this which is—community, of course!

7. Extra Discounts

My CSA offers a 10% discount to current members that can be used when purchasing additional produce from farmer’s markets and online markets that my CSA Farm participates in. This is useful because weeks I don’t receive my summer staples (like lettuce or zucchini) I can still save money and shop locally.