Thursday, March 8, 2012

Letters to a Home Town - "What is a CSA?"

Today it felt like spring so under the guise of putting up fliers for the CSA, we headed for the park. "What is a CSA?" you ask. Read on...

Mixing Work With Play

What is a CSA?
(Letter Circa June 2010)

A CSA in my neighborhood?! I stared wide eyed at the flier stapled to the pole by the train station stairs. I glanced up to be sure I had gotten off at the right stop. ‘Fresh from the farm organic produce’ the flier touted. My mouth salivated at the prospect.

Mine is not exactly the kind of neighborhood that you would expect a CSA to be forming. We don’t have a farmers market (though there are about 50 in NYC) or a health food store.  There is no coffee shop offering organic fair trade coffee and live jazz every Saturday night. It is a working class neighborhood where people get their morning coffee at the corner bodega and come home at night with no wish greater than to kick off their shoes and watch a little TV. Don’t get me wrong. I really like the area I live in. It just doesn’t have the same offerings as can be found in some other areas of NYC.

CSA is an acronym for Community Supported Agriculture. How it works is that members pay a farm in advance for shares of a seasons produce, then receive deliveries of fresh product throughout that season. In some ways it is a lot like having a big garden; you can’t be picky. You get what is in season. If it is a bumper year for cucumbers, you get to make pickles. 

One of the most challenging things about getting enough people together in an area to form a designated CSA delivery point for a farm is that becoming a member is an investment. CSAs are based on a shared risk and reward system. Money is paid to the farm at the beginning of the season with no guarantee beyond an unspecified quantity and variety of produce delivered weekly. For families accustomed to budgeting their groceries by the week, investing in produce months in advance is an unfamiliar and sometimes difficult concept to fathom. Then there is always the (not so) simple matter of having the money to invest. 

With a creative cook and an adventurous pallet in the house, we knew we wanted in. With a little fund shuffling, we’ve found a way. Beyond the promise of fresh fruits and vegetables, joining a CSA gives us the opportunity to support something we believe in; small farms and local businesses. A portion of our groceries this summer and well into the fall will be coming from a farm less than 200 miles away. This may sound far, but then consider, much of the produce at our local grocery stores comes from Florida, California, Mexico and Peru. Tomatoes that have traveled 1,000 miles get road weary.

Peas, beans, mixed greens and strawberries are all expected in the first week’s delivery. I’ve heard there are sometimes ‘surprises’ so I am hoping for asparagus too. I am sure that there will be times when I am soliciting recipes for whatever arrives, but it will be worth it. I’ve never made pickles before.

I hope this letter has found you and yours in good spirits and good health. Until I write again…


  1. I like it. You are a natural when it comes to blogging and sharing your articles. I am closer to the farms and have to find a CSA

  2. Thanks Bruce!
    You should check out Garden of Eve. We joined one of their Brooklyn delivery sites for winter because our CSA didn't do winter this year. It has been a very positive experience.