*feature image photo credit: Bruce Schuler
What’s a CSA? And Why Have all my Friends Joined One?
You’ve probably heard people talking about their CSA near Grand Rapids during the Michigan growing season. The letters stand for Community Supported Agriculture – but what exactly does that mean?
Community Supported Agriculture is a way to connect directly to a local farm to stock your fridge with delicious fruits and veggies. Here’s how it works…
CSA’s sell shares of the crops they grow to members of the public (you and me!). At the start of the growing season, a farm decides how many shares of produce they will offer.
Participants buy the share before crops are producing, which allows the farm to cover their operating expenses. Throughout the summer, CSA members receive a weekly share of the harvest. These shares vary from farm to farm but include a weekly box (basket or bag) of seasonal produce for the duration of the farming season, which is around 20 weeks.
Families Love the Local Connection With a CSA
My family has been part of a CSA since we moved here four years ago.
For 20 weeks straight, we pick up locally-grown organic produce at the peak of its flavor. All farms have different growing capabilities and offer different vegetables, but many tend to follow a plan that fits best with Michigan weather – lots of greens in the beginning, peppers, onions, beans and tomatoes in the middle, and winter squash in the fall.
Most CSAs are vegetable focused but different farms offer options to purchase meat, eggs, honey, fruit, or flowers at a lower cost.
I work for my CSA, so instead of paying money for my vegetable share, I pay with my couple hours of labor on the farm every week.
Sometimes I think it would be easier to just pay for my share and show up once a week to collect the harvest, but there is something so satisfying (and relaxing) about getting my hands dirty planting and harvesting. Plus I learn so much – like did you know garlic can be planted in late fall and grow through the winter?
Most CSA’s encourage member involvement. While they may not offer a workshare program like mine, CSA’s often give tours or offer u-pick/volunteer opportunities. Knowing who is growing your food and how they do it gives you a new appreciation for farming.
It is very important to me that my kids see the hard work that goes into growing. I come from a long line of farmers and have seen firsthand how hard they work….but my kids had not seen that until we joined this CSA.
Now they are exposed to the nuances of farming, like how weather affects the growing season and the adversity that farmers face (like weed and pest control!) My daughter helped me dig potatoes out of the dirt last year and declared it her “favorite thing ever.”
There is an ownership and pride that comes with investing in a local farm.
Need Help Getting More Vegetables in your Diet? Join a CSA!
One of my main reasons for joining a CSA is for accountability. I struggle with eating enough vegetables and I am always encouraging my kids to try them.
When you belong to a CSA and are given a beautiful share of veggies grown with hard work – you don’t want them to go to waste.
Getting a weekly share encourages me to try new recipes and also try new veggies that I wouldn’t normally buy. My kids love coming up with new ways to enjoy our vegetables.
Their favorites? Lunch meat and ranch dressing wrapped up in a huge fresh spinach or lettuce leaf. Fresh carrots and ranch are popular in our house too. Notice the trend?
CSAs are Around $20/Week
If the idea of a CSA is a bit intimidating, a good option might be to invest in a half share. You can even split with a friend or neighbor to share the cost. The first time we participated in a CSA we split a half share with another family and took turns picking up every other week.
The price for a full share may seem high but if you break it down, most are around $20 a week for the best produce you can eat! Some farms even offer trial periods, mini shares, or point systems.
Look at it as an investment in your health and local farmers.
How to Find a CSA
West Michigan is home to many amazing CSAs.
They are filling up now. The typical CSA season is June – September or October. Prices and pick-up locations vary. Most farms have a pick-up at their farm and an additional location, so don’t rule out a farm just because it isn’t near your home. Ask where the pick-up sites are. Lots of CSAs have pick-up sites at local farmers markets.
Resources I like:
Local Harvest: This website is great for finding CSAs and farm markets or harvest festivals.
Pick Your Own: This site focuses on finding local farms and also preserving and cooking with fresh produce. I love their fresh salsa and spaghetti sauce recipes.
A List of West Michigan CSA’s That are Growing Food You’ll Love
I’ve added links to local CSAs that to my knowledge still have openings for this summer’s growing season.
Most of them have pick-up sites from multiple locations. In addition to veggies, there are a few local farms that offer meat and dairy shares as well.
I hope you take the plunge- it’s a great way to invest in a local farm and your health!
- Green Wagon Farm (Ada – additional pickup in GR)
- Blandford Nature Center (Grand Rapids – farm or Fulton St. Market)
- Frayed Shoestring Farms (Greenville)
- Visser Farms (Zeeland-pickups in Holland, GR, Ada, Metro Health, Rockford)
- Peach Ridge Farm (Grand Rapids)
- Groundswell Community Farm (Zeeland – pickups in Holland, Zeeland and Grand Rapids)
- Chimney Creek Farm (Belding – pickup or delivery)
- Mud Lake Farm *greens only (Hudsonville – pickups in GR or Holland)
- Full Hollow Farm (Belding – pickups in Rockford, Lowell and Grand Rapids)
- Diversity Farm (Morley – pickups in Grand Rapids or Big Rapids)
- New City Urban Farm (Grand Rapids)
- Schuler Farms (Caledonia)
- Earth Keeper Farm (Kent City)
- Kessler Family Farm (Byron Center)
*Meat Shares: Monthly distribution of a box of locally-raised meat