It’s almost spring! That means it is time to sign up for a CSA. I’ve seen a lot of CSAs over the years. And I’ve also answered hundreds of questions for people asking about the Red Wagon CSA. There are so many CSAs in the area–how do you choose the one that will be the best fit for you? You can start by asking friends in the area to recommend a CSA they have enjoyed. Or look online to see if the farm has any reviews.
Here is the most important question to ask yourself when choosing a CSA: Are you a) trying to help a farm (a new farm or one that has been around for a while) by supporting them financially and you aren’t that worried about what you actually receive? Or are you b) looking for a CSA farm that will provide you with a good variety of produce all season long?
I you answered “a”, your work is easy! Find a CSA farm that you love (for any reason) and join away! If you answered “b”, you have a lot more homework to do. Here are some questions you should ask before you join a CSA if you are really counting on receiving the food you paid for:
- How long has the farm been in business? The more season the farm has under its belt, the more able it will be to deal with the many challenges that come up during a season. Do you know what a “normal” growing season looks like in Colorado? Me neither. Every year is vastly different in terms of weather (and plant diseases, and insect pests, and…) and it takes a number of years before you know how to roll with all the challenges Mother Nature throws at us.
- What did CSA members receive in their shares last year? Ideally, the farm will be able to show you a list of what CSA members received every week of the previous season. Obviously each year will be unique in terms of exactly what CSA members receive, but looking at a list from the previous season will give you a good idea of what to expect this year.
- What crops does the farm grow? This is similar to #2, but slightly different. Does the farm grow a lot of leafy greens? Will you be eating only beets, zucchini, and turnips? Maybe you are allergic to tomatoes and the farm prides itself on providing 8 weeks of tomatoes to CSA members. Find out if the farm grows the kinds of vegetables you like.
- Do CSA members get first-quality produce? Or do they get seconds? If CSA members get seconds, you should ask if the price reflects this.
- Is the produce washed? Some people love getting home and rinsing off dirt from freshly harvested vegetables while they sort through the week’s haul. Other people want clean veggies they can put straight in the fridge without having to spend any time on prep.
- What quantity of produce will you get? Will you get enough to feed you for the week? Or will you get large quantities of some items for canning?
- How many weeks is the CSA? You will likely pay more for a CSA share that runs 22 weeks than one that runs for 16 weeks.
There are many more questions you could ask. And there are no “right” answers. It is all about gathering information before you make a commitment.
Both the farmer and the CSA member are unhappy when they have different ideas and expectations for the CSA. The more information you can get ahead of time, the more likely it is that the CSA you choose will be a good fit for you and you will happily eat your way through the summer.