CSAs Help Farmers Share the Harvest

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It’s arguably the best-tasting subscription you can buy: a weekly box full of Indiana’s most flavorful, in-season produce at ultimate freshness – often just a few hours after being picked.

“CSA” stands for Community Supported Agriculture, a crop-sharing arrangement between farmers and consumers. Consumers buy shares into a local produce farm in exchange for a weekly share of the farm’s harvest. A CSA subscription yields a potpourri of produce that shoppers might find at the local farmers market with the added element of sharing in a farm’s risks and rewards.

Costs of a CSA vary by share size and farm, but they typically range from $300 to $600 per season, an investment that gives households a healthy dose of weekly produce from spring to late summer. The Indiana-grown goodness even lasts through winter if consumers practice food preservation.

“I think it’s important to support local businesses and know where your food is coming from,” says Whitney Nickless of Melon Acres, which sells an average of 175 CSA subscriptions to add a retail component to the Knox County farm. “We feel consumers can trust our product is going to be safe and picked fresh. I think CSAs are a great program, and eating local and supporting family-owned business is great for Indiana.”

A Box of Advantages

The advantages to CSAs seem as abundant as the vegetables themselves. Farmers secure working capital for seeds and supplies. They also establish a market for their products in the offseason, before their long workdays of the growing season begin.

In exchange, consumers receive the freshest produce available, support the local economy and form relationships with farmers. They learn about the risks and rewards of farming, from raccoons in the sweet corn to the blessings of timely rains.

CSA shareholders also eat healthy food and try new foods. Kale, okra or eggplant adds variety to the familiar potatoes, bell peppers and tomatoes that may arrive in a weekly box.

“You may get some vegetables that you haven’t heard of or haven’t tried before in your weekly box, but that is part of the fun of a CSA,” says Jasper County farmer Stacy Walker, who operated a CSA for nine years with husband Scott at Walker Farms. “Make smoothies by adding kale, spinach or carrots. Change up your omelet by adding a different mix of vegetables each time.”

Nickless tries to accommodate shareholders who may want to swap produce. Sometimes, shareholders want to buy extras to can or freeze. For that, shareholders can tap into the relationship with their farmer for advice on storage, canning, freezing and even recipes.

“We’ve had some of our customers who have stayed with the program since we started,” Nickless says. “You create a relationship with your customers, and they’re comfortable talking to you about their produce and what they can do with it.”


Find Your Food Fit

CSA programs work best for people who enjoy produce and have the time and money to buy and prepare fresh food. Local produce is a premium product, and a box of fresh veggies takes time to prepare or preserve.

At the same time, the investment may guilt consumers into healthier eating when a box of fresh, nutritious produce arrives once a week.

Farms offer CSA share sizes that feed between two and six veggie-loving household members per week. Financial arrangements vary by farm and often include payment up front or installment plans.

Shareholders pick up their produce every week on the farm or at established times at public locations. Some farms offer delivery for a fee and may also expand their offerings beyond vegetables if they have bread, meat or eggs available.

For consumers interested in joining a CSA, farms generally sell shares from Christmas through March to precede planting season.

“If you aren’t able to grow your own garden or grow enough to meet your family’s needs, joining a CSA is the next best thing,” Walker says.

Find a CSA near you at localharvest.org.

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