To CSA or not to CSA? That is the question.

Seems everyone with any interest in local food is buying up community supported agriculture (CSA) shares, locking in weekly (or bi-weekly) market baskets /boxes of fresh, seasonal, and most importantly, local produce, eggs and sometimes meat as well.  Last summer my wife and I decided we would try one in 2010.   I’ve done research and I have found a couple of them that have pickup locations near my work or in Waukesha where I live.  They are all from well-known farms and the sample list of items is impressive.  While the overall price may seem steep, calculated out through the Wisconsin growing season the price ranges between 15-30 a week, far less than I’d spend at a grocery store and about in line with what I spend at the Waukesha Farmers’ Market every week.  Therein lies my dilemma; how much would I visit the farmers’ market (one of my favorite things to do on a Saturday) if I had a box of herbs, fruits, and vegetables from a CSA? 

I am torn.  I love the thought of opening up a box each with a bounty of produce not chosen by me.  I like the challenge of cooking with things I have never made before and I also like the thought of coming up with new uses for common produce items. I also love going to the farmers’ market and seeing what is fresh or browsing the stands trying to think of something fun to do with the items (check out last summer’s lamb bratwurst concoction for an idea of what I speak of).  Would I be robbing myself of that?  Would I longingly look at the large fennel bulbs knowing that I had 7 other vegetables at home that I need to use instead?  Would some of the CSA box go to waste?

So for those of you who do CSA shares, has it impacted or ruined your farmers’ market experience?

7 thoughts on “To CSA or not to CSA? That is the question.

  1. You bring up a good point. If you’re shopping at a farmers market each week anyway and plan to continue doing so, why get a CSA box?

    I agree that the challenge of using new ingredients and coming up with meals based on what’s in the box would be fun, but maybe only two or three times throughout the summer (for me) rather than every week. Personally, I’d rather have control over what I buy and eat each week by picking it out at the market myself. I also have a hunch a lot of the CSA stuff would end up going bad before I had the chance to use it.

    If the main draw is the element of surprise, you and your wife could take turns picking things out and surprising one another, or you guys could pair up with a friend and buy each other mystery boxes every now and then. You’d still get your farmers market Saturdays that way.

  2. We LOVED the challenge of figuring out what to do with what was fresh & best. CSA share kept us eating better than just about anything I can think of. And what we couldn’t eat, we got creative with putting up for the winter months (freezing mostly).

    That said, we definitely missed the market.
    That said, I have a great suggestion. Jen Ehr Family Farm does “farm market shares” at the West Allis Market– you get funds to spend with them all year at the market, rather than a set delivered box. Gives you the leeway to buy “more of this” or “less of that”… and you still get to go to the market every week to check out the other wares!

  3. We are thinking of doing the Jen Ehr half share where you get a box every other week. We’d actually split it with someone too. This way we are getting a taste of the CSA box, but still not enough food to keep us away from the Waukesha Farmers’ Market.

  4. We’ve been members of a wonderful CSA for the past 5 years. For the very reason that you’ve written about, we will be taking a break this year. It was a very tough decision because the quality of the produce and extras in our box every week was phenomenal.

    Our teeny town of Fredonia just started a farmer’s market last year, and there are some other local businesses that we haven’t been able to support as much as we’d like because of our generous weekly CSA bounty. We realize that we may not get our spot back in the future if we end up regretting our decision (sniff), although we are thrilled for them that they are at capacity.

    I guess it’s great to get to make this decision since it means there are a lot of wonderful options out there, it’s just a bit sentimental considering that our children don’t know what summers are like without the weekly drive to pick up that box of goodies and build our meals around it.

  5. We do a meow share (every other week) from LOTFOL- they drop off at Good Harvest. It works great. And we visit the farmers market too. It complements the foods we get in the share. You can’t go wrong.

  6. I was so excited to join a CSA, I never stopped to consider how it would impact my trips to the local Farmer’s Market. I definitely went less often to the market, but I really LOVED the surprise box of goodies every week. The box prevented my usual over-shopping at the market. My trips to the market became targeted for specific items I wasn’t getting in the CSA box like big amounts of corn or tomatoes, shallots, apples & apple cider, flowers, and meat. Plus I ventured out more to bigger markets outside my city. I plan to continue double dipping (CSA and markets) this season.

  7. I’ve been doing a CSA for 4 years and I love it! I do both a veggie share as well as an egg share. I occasionally go to the farmer’s market to supplement what I get in my box or to get meat. The CSA is so convenient and I get incredibly creative with my menus, using vegetables I would not normally buy (or some that I had never tried before). I have written about my CSA at my blog,

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