CSAs: Are They Worth It?

A few weeks ago, I mentioned in my Menu Plan Monday post that my neighbor had given me her CSA veggies for the week that she and her family were on vacation.

It was the first time I had tried out a CSA, and while I was grateful for the week’s worth of free veggies, I wasn’t sure how I would do with a bunch of vegetables that I may or may not know how to prepare. I thought it might be good to weigh the pros and cons after my experience to see if joining a CSA was worth the money.

Buying a CSA farm share requires a big investment of time and money, but the local organic produce you get can be really delicious. Learn the pros and cons of investing in a CSA share and consider whether you want to buy one for your family.

Just what exactly is a CSA?

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and it is just what it sounds like. Basically, a farm, or collection of farms, pre-sells their produce to a group of people in their local community.  The buyers give the farm a lump sum of money up front, and then throughout the summer, the buyers receive products each week.

Here in my area of Maryland, CSAs are huge. I mean, people go so crazy over community supported agriculture that you have to get on a waiting list in January to be able to get your summer produce. They are also expensive, ranging from $600 to $1,000, which you have to pay upfront, although some CSAs offer payment plans.

The upside of this program is that a person receives fresh, locally-grown fruits and vegetables (and sometimes dairy, meat or other food products). This means that the produce that you receive is super fresh, and hasn’t been sitting on a truck while being hauled across the country, or spoiling on a grocery store shelf.

Unfortunately, most of the time, you do not have a say in what kind of fruit and vegetables you receive from the farm…you get what they decide to grow. So, for example, if you don’t like kohlrabi…or never even heard of it…you are out of luck.

Are CSA fruits and veggies actually good?

Now, I may be a little prejudiced when it comes to fruits and veggies because I am originally from California’s Central Valley, home to some of the best farms and orchards on the planet. Growing up, we always had delicious berries, peaches, tomatoes, squash, just to name a few.

After my move to Maryland, I realized how good I had it as a child…the produce in the grocery stores here is just, well, sad. Most of the time, things will go bad before I have a chance to cook it, and I hesitate to buy things like peaches, because they go from unripe and crunchy to rotten in a few days without ever being actually edible.

I’ve tried a few farm stands here and there, but most of the items are similar to what you find in the grocery stores…they even have the same tiny stickers with the produce code that the cashier uses at the checkout…only the prices are higher. My best bet was to shop at Aldi, where I could mostly buy good strawberries and other fruit from California. Needless to say, I didn’t have high hopes for the CSA.

During the week that we tried the farm-direct produce, we received:

  • blueberries
  • green onions
  • cucumbers
  • romaine lettuce
  • summer squash
  • mushrooms
  • beets
  • spinach
  • basil
  • bread
  • 1 dozen eggs
  • cheddar cheese

They all looked delicious, and I was excited to try everything!

What can you make with CSA produce?

I’m happy to report that I successfully cooked everything that we received from the farm. Honestly, I was worried about a few of the items, because I didn’t know if my family would be open to eating them.

Here are a few of the dishes I made during the week:

Buying a CSA farm share requires a big investment of time and money, but the local organic produce you get can be really delicious. Learn the pros and cons of investing in a CSA share and consider whether you want to buy one for your family.

 Tossed salad using the romaine lettuce

Buying a CSA farm share requires a big investment of time and money, but the local organic produce you get can be really delicious. Learn the pros and cons of investing in a CSA share and consider whether you want to buy one for your family. Sauteed summer squash with basil

Buying a CSA farm share requires a big investment of time and money, but the local organic produce you get can be really delicious. Learn the pros and cons of investing in a CSA share and consider whether you want to buy one for your family.

 Make-your-own taco bar with romaine lettuce, cheddar cheese and green onions

I neglected to take a picture of the beet salad I made, but it was pretty good!

How much does a CSA cost?

The farm from which we received our items runs for 23 weeks and costs $897, which averages out to $39 per week. I took a look at some other CSAs in our area, and they run about the same price per week, with some arrangements lasting a shorter time.

At first, I thought, “Oh, that’s way out of our price range!” I usually try to stay at under $100 per week for all of our groceries, and I couldn’t see spending 2/5 of our budget on 10 items.

On the other hand, the produce was much nicer than what I found in the store, and knowing that it was already paid for made me determined to cook all of it, so that none went to waste.

That particular week, we ate much more veggies than ever before, and that was something I was excited about.

So, what’s the verdict on the CSA?

The verdict was that we loved it and we are now members of this same CSA.

Even though many other CSAs in the area fill up very early in the year, during my research I noticed that this farm did not have the word “full” next to one of their delivery routes. I emailed them to ask if I could still join and they said yes!

We picked up our first share a couple of days ago and have been enjoying more blueberries, peaches (although they are still crunchy!), a delicious herb bread, and more. Nothing “weird” this week, except for maybe kale, which I have not cooked before, but for which I know I can find a million recipes on Pinterest 🙂

Are you a member of a CSA? What do you like/dislike about it?

7 thoughts on “CSAs: Are They Worth It?”

  1. CSA is great! We eat everything from there! My kids are not big veggie eaters but I juice most of the greens along with fruit and kids love their ‘vitamin juice’! 🙂

    1. Hey Maia! I didn’t know you were members of a CSA! Glad to hear that you like it 🙂

      The kids love picking out the veggies from each bin on pick-up day, but haven’t been so good at eating everything. I snuck some beet greens into our stir fry the other night and nobody said a thing! Score! 😉

      1. We are not members but we are lucky to have neighbors who had signed up for the full option and they give us half of theirs because they can’t eat it all 🙂 For the next two weeks I have to pick up Barb’s veggies too on top of the ones I have already 🙂

  2. I have looked into a CSA before but instead of joining one we decided to expand our garden.

    We have lots of CSAs here. I just noticed a sign the other day that there is a drop off for one near our home. Which is so convenient, when I looked into them before the closest drop off was 20 minutes away.

    I’m sure it will be great for your family to be able to have yummy fresh produce each week.

  3. Thanks for sharing your experience, Erin. This is our first year being members of a CSA, and it’s only because of an extremely generous and wonderful friend that I have. 😉 She struggles with allergies and found that she was allergic to something in the box that very first week. After that, she offered us her veggies for the next 19 weeks! We’re blessed indeed.

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