I love shopping at Memphis’s farmers markets, now that we have them all over town. But there are days when traipsing from booth to booth with kids wears me out. There’s so much to choose from, and I don’t always make wise decisions with them in tow. (Did we really need sticky buns? How did I forget the green beans?) So this year, I’m considering enrolling in a CSA.
When we first moved to Memphis 10 years ago, finding a CSA, which stands for Community Supported Agriculture, was hard. Now it’s hard to decide which one to sign up for.
Answering a few questions, like the ones on Tubby Creek Farm’s website, might help. Do you and your family like vegetables, and enjoy trying new ones? Will you spend most of the season at home, and cook most of your own meals? Do you shop for produce based on what looks good and is in season? Do you crave a relationship with the people who grow your food?
There’s another consideration. Signing up for a CSA means accepting a dose of uncertainty. In effect, you are co-financing a farmer’s season. Aside from the satisfaction of investing in your community, your dividend is your weekly basket of produce. In a blockbuster season, you’ll get more than your money’s worth. Conversely, if a flood or drought strikes, you might feel you’ve paid for food you aren’t getting.
Sara Yarrow, a working mom with two girls ages 3 and 1, did a CSA last year with Delta Sol, a farm owned by Brandon Pugh in North Mississippi. She found using a CSA convenient. “The biggest plus for me was that we paid up front, so in the next months I put ‘veggie pick up’ on my calendar every week.” Lisa Hart of True Vine Farms, which also offers CSAs, says that a CSA can simplify shopping and free up precious time. “Everything is picked out and ready to go.” West Wind Farms’ Kimberlie Cole agrees. “Your upfront purchase of weekly deliveries eliminates the temptation to ‘impulse’ buy, and it saves you time preparing shopping lists, checking the budget, and doing the actual shopping.”
For Laurie Major, mom to two boys, subscribing to a CSA with Downing Hollow Farm is part adventure, part pioneer-woman stockpiling. She’s enjoyed “weekly CSA cooking challenges.” For pure pleasure, she’s also had a flower CSA from Whitton Farm in Arkansas. But as a pragmatist, she cans and freezes much of her summer bounty when she has the time.
So how does it work? You pay in advance (usually before the first of May) for a full or half share. Some farms offer three period: spring, summer, and fall. Others sign you up for a full season, stretching from April or May to November. Most offer vegetables and fruits, but a few, such as West Wind, provide meat, dairy, and eggs. In general, farmers send five to 10 varieties of fruits or veggies each week, all of them just harvested. Pickups are often at farmers markets and usually include one weekday and a Saturday. In general, the etiquette of CSAs is that you take what they give, but there are some that can work with your preferences. In general, the better you know your farmer, the better she or he will know your family.
So are we going to do it? We’re still deciding. Paying up front is a psychological and financial leap. But judging from the people I spoke to, the investment might pay off in more than just food.