We all know about the classic CSA: a box of fresh vegetables and fruits from a local farm delivered once a week to your home. Paying in advance of the season in most cases or even on a monthly or weekly basis, a CSA participant is then entitled to a portion or share of t whatever the farm or ranch produces. This model proved effective as the money earned from selling CSA shares could help alleviate seasonal startup costs incurred by farmers and the risk of a poor harvest or, alternatively, the blessing of a bountiful harvest was evenly shared between the grower and his many supporters. In this way, small farms could continue to operate in poor years as well as in plentiful years.
In recent years, CSAs referred almost exclusively to boxes of fruits and vegetables from produce growers; however, as the success of the CSA model continues to grow, other producers are are expanding upon the nature of the CSA. Now, nearly anything you need can be found in CSA form. Happily, this model works well for small producers of other farm and agricultural products. Indeed, we participate in four separate forms of community supported agriculture – getting our meat, milk, eggs and produce through purchased shares.
Meat CSAs usually provide an assortment of natural, pastured and grass-finished meats on a monthly basis to shareholders. While some meat CSAs will only provide a single type of meat – chicken or beef, for example – others will provide a consistent variety including pork, beef, lamb, elk, bison, venison, turkey, duck and chicken depending on the types of animals they raise. Delivered monthly, or weekly, the frozen meats provide an easy way to reduce your miles to the plate while always keeping your family in wholesome, nourishing animal foods. As an added benefit, most ranchers operating on a CSA model to sell their meats directly to the public operate according to standards that exceed those required by Organic certification. Prices on meat CSAs range from $300 – $450 for three months of a full share in which participants receive anywhere from 10 to 25 lbs of meat per month. These equates to an average per pound cost of $4 – $8 which is a remarkable deal for pastured and grass-finished meats.
2. Raw Milk
In many states, including my own, selling raw and unpasteurized milk directly to the public is illegal. However, consumers who value raw milk and dairy products for their freshness, flavor and health benefits still enjoy an opportunity to acquire these foods through the herdshare – a CSA-type model. By purchasing a share of the herd (usually a one time fee of $50) participants are entitled to whatever that herd produces: namely, fresh raw milk. Some raw milk CSAs or cow shares as they’re commonly referred to also provide fresh butter, yogurt, cream and other dairy products. In addition to your 1-time purchase of a share, you’ll pay monthly “boarding” expenses which average about $15 – $30 per share. One share usually provides one half gallon or one full gallon of fresh milk per week depending on how your farmer has set up the herdshare operation. This averages to about $7.50 – $10.00 per gallon of fresh raw milk. Check out this post outlining what to look for in an organic raw milk dairy.
3. Artisan Cheese
Love illegal foods like fresh artisan cheese and those most dangerous of dangerous foods: raw milk cheese aged less than 60 days? (I know … I know … you’re gasping at the horror of fresh creamy, young raw milk cheese. No?) While the FDA condemns these luscious, delicious young traditional cheeses and stoops so low as to scare pregnant mamas away from all soft cheeses and even aged raw milk cheese, that doesn’t mean that you’ll have to risk jailtime to enjoy their charm and beauty. Neither do you have to jetset over the Atlantic to get a hold of some fresh, raw cheese either. Indeed, using the raw milk herd share as a model some artisan cheesemakers have devised a way to skirt the law and still provide fresh, young raw milk cheese to consumers who can truly appreciate them. Indeed, they offer a cheese CSA giving you access to beautiful young blue cheeses, raw camembert-esque cheese all without a ticket to Paris. Cheese shares vary widely in price and some shares start at $20 per season and then each private customer is charged a on per ounce or per pound basis.
In the springtime, we have an overabundance of eggs. Our egg CSA delivers 2 dozen, our veggie CSA delivers 1 more and inevitably a friend or two will give us some of their surplus so we’re often dealing with 5 or more dozen per week this time of year; however, come late Autumn and early winter there’s nary an egg to be found as the hens naturally stop laying. That’s why participating in an egg CSA can really make a big difference when the chickens begin to lay less and less frequently. By committing to an egg CSA every week, when the hens’ production begins to decline you get your eggs first and the customers who don’t participate in the CSA miss out completely. Even better, egg CSAs are usually considerably less expensive than buying eggs on a dozen-by-dozen basis. We pay $4/dozen for pastured eggs through our CSA but were we to buy the same eggs at the store or at the market we’d pay $6 to $8 a dozen depending on the season. It saves a lot of money for consumers and guarantees income for farmers.
5. Fresh-cut flowers
There is something remarkably charming about fresh-cut local flowers. The days of uniform gerber daisies are bygone and now eco-conscious consumers are recognizing the inherent value of their local flora. Many farms grow organic flowers including edible flowers to help supplement their income from growing fruits and vegetables. Flowers are a high-value crop and can be very abundant in their growth during the height of summer. If you love fresh-cut flowers, consider opting into a flower CSA which will guarantee delivery of a bouquet of locally grown flowers every week while they blossom. The length of this CSA depends on your area, but most run between 10 and 22 weeks. Costs vary as well. Some CSAs are as inexpensive as $75 while others cost over $300. Regardless, it averages out to about $7 – $15 per bouquet – a very good value and you have pretty flowers to decorate your dining table every week.
6. Organic Wines
As the local foods movement blossoms and fruits, there’s greater enthusiasm for local wines. Winemakers, like cheesemakers and bread bakers, are jumping on the CSA bandwagon with much success. Similar to those wine-of-the-month clubs, wine CSAs provide anywhere from 2 to 4 bottles a month to their shareholders. The difference is that the wines are local to your region and to the fruits that grow therein. Most winemakers produce several varietals so you’re never bored. And if you’re in rural Colorado, like me, a cherry wine, perry or hard cider might find its way into your basket from time to time. Wine shares average between $300 and $700 for a full share and that equates to about $9 – $12 per bottle. In my area retail price for local wines usually hovers between $18 and $30 so it’s damned good value to get into a wine CSA.
Conducted either by bakers or by grain farmers, bread CSAs are a unique and interesting way to get freshly baked bread on your family’s dinner table every week. Rather than wasting money at the store purchasing industrial bread at $2 a loaf or expensive health food store bread at $8 a loaf, you can purchase a bread CSA at a fraction of the cost and contribute to the financial solubility of local grain farmers and artisan bakers. In most bread shares you can specify which type of bread you’d like to receive (sourdough is optimal for its slow-rise and digesitiblity). An average 6-month CSA will run you $200 – $250 and you’ll receive two loaves of bread a week. Fresh, local and no-GMO! What could be better?
8. Farmers Market Punchcard
One of the drawbacks (or benefits depending on who you talk to) of CSAs is that you never know what you’re going to get. In most models, you don’t get to choose whether to forgo the apples in exchange for the pears. You get what you get what you get. Simple as that. Some innovative farmers are offering a market or farmstand punchcard to their CSA recipients. Consumers pay in advance and, instead of receiving a box of mystery vegetables, they receive a punchcard that gives them a discount of 5% – 10% for use at the farmers market or farmstand that allows them to choose the foods they want. In this manner, the farmers still reap the benefits of the CSA – namely that they can pay their startup costs prior to earning income from the harvest – and the consumers benefit by being able to select the foods they want at a discount.
9. Soaps, Yarn and Non-edibles
For many farmers, fruits and vegetables represent only a small portion of products they sell and non-edible farm products help them to make ends meet. Consider hand-crafted quilts, handmade soaps or yarn and woolen products. many of these farmers offer a supplemental CSA to provide these unique farm crafts to the public. Buy purchasing a wool share, you’ll get skeins of yarn from local spun wool. Buy purchasing a soap share, you’ll get bars of soaps and bath items made by your farmer’s family. These CSAs are hard to find and pricing varies wildly.
10. Dinner Out
Some restaurants that source only local ingredients have developed a CSA-style approach to getting their feet off the ground. A hybridization of the dining cooperative and the CSA, these restaurants are selling shares of future meals in advance usually for around $500 – $1000 and they then spend that money sourcing exclusively or almost exclusively organic, local ingredients that are then prepared as special meals for their share holders. It’s a unique concept that’s getting press around the country.