Special thanks to guest contributor Jen Byrne for writing this article and to Earth Keeper Farm (a CSA with a drop off point at our partner, Ada Farmers Market!) for providing the photos. 

What’s a CSA and How Do You Join?

You’ve probably heard people talking about CSAs even if you aren’t that familiar with them.

A CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) is a way to invest directly into a local farm.  Here’s how it works…

At the start of the growing season, a farm decides how many shares of produce they will offer to the public.  People buy the share at this time, 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, bag) of seasonal produce for the duration of the farming season, which is around 20 weeks.

Families Love the Local Connection With a CSA

Last year our family participated in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture).

For 20 weeks straight, we picked up locally grown (organic) produce at the peak of its flavor. What an amazing experience!  We loved being directly connected to the farm and the farmers that grew our food.

Most CSAs are vegetable focused but different farms offer options to purchase meat, eggs, honey, fruit, or flowers at a lower cost.

Almost all the farms allow members to tour the farm at any time and some even offer classes, recipes, farm dinners, and /or classes. It is a terrific way to build community with other families.

In our CSA, we saw firsthand how our food was grown and where it came from.

Our kids even helped pick veggies from time to time.  Throughout the growing season we noticed when different foods ripened and got in sync with the rhythms of the farm.  Along the way, we were exposed to foods we had never heard of before.

Kohlrabi is one example.

I never planned to buy this vegetable (it looks like a white turnip), but when we found it in our weekly share I was challenged to use it. Ends up it is quite tasty raw and my 2 and 3 year old devour it this way!

I would have never known about kohlrabi if I wasn’t stretched to experiment with new foods. Admittedly, we’ve received foods we didn’t enjoy as much, but at least we tried them. Our first year in the CSA has expanded our family’s’ palate and now we enjoy experimenting with new recipes. Plus, our girls are more willing to try new things knowing it came from “our farm” rather than Meijer.

There is an ownership and pride that comes with investing in a local farm.

You know that you are supporting something important and that you share in the success of the farm. You begin to be a cheerleader for the farmers and want to see them succeed because you realize their success affects what ends up on your plate. It becomes much more intimate than opening a bag of carrots from the grocery store that may have been shipped in from Northern California.

This is a beautiful learning experience for kids.

How to Join a CSA in West Michigan

West Michigan is the home to many amazing CSAs.

They are filling up now. The typical CSA season is June through 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.

If the idea of a CSA is a bit intimidating, a good option might be to invest in a half share. This is what our family did last year and it was perfect for our first year. We split our share with good friends and when we figured out the cost, it was less than $13 a week for a generous amount of local, organic produce. Absolutely worth the investment in my book.

If you are considering a CSA for the first time this year, I would encourage you to take a look at the book, “From Asparagus to Zucchini: A Guide to Cooking Farm-Fresh Seasonal Produce.”

It was incredibly helpful resource to me last year as we navigated through several new foods. The book was written by a CSA in the Midwest and syncs well with the crops most CSAs offer in West Michigan.

Included are explanations of vegetables and herbs, how to use and store them, and also recipes to experiment with. It’s a great resource for new (and old) CSA member.

Where to Find a CSA Near Grand Rapids

I’ve added links to local CSAs that to my knowledge still have openings for this summer’s growing season.

Remember most of them have pick-up sites in Ada or Grand Rapids. I have spoken either by phone or email to most of these farmers in the past several weeks and I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. This is an amazing line up of quality farming.

I hope you take the plunge- it’s a great way to invest in a local farm and your health!

 

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