How to Make Community-Supported Agriculture a Part of Your Life

Amy Arani

If we want to support our bodies and the greater planetary body, we’ve got to begin reconsidering every choice we make — including what we eat. When we lift our fork to mouth, take our food-to-go, or buy lettuce, we’re contributing to our future world.

Sure, walking our talk can be challenging. Being conscious of every action is not a tenable option for most of us, considering that we lead busy, fast-paced lives. However, although it’s likely not realistic to change everything about your life right now, the good news is that you can start small and still make a difference. 

One way we can impact our health and the world around us is by supporting local farmers and producers. Community-supported agriculture, a business model that’s been around since the early 1980s, connects people directly to local growers. CSAs cut out the middle-man and create a link between farmers and the citizenry. 

Why Choose Community-Supported Agriculture?

As our environment becomes increasingly inundated by plastic, we must reduce our waste. When you visit the supermarket, you probably notice that much of what you buy comes in a plastic container or wrap. One could argue that food producers should invest in eco-friendly packaging, especially since plastic recycling is not happening in some cities. While many CSAs deal solely in produce, some sell other foodstuffs, and they tend to use minimal, easily reusable, or recyclable materials, such as cardboard boxes. 

CSA Eco Friendly Packaging

Supporting local produce also means that you’re cutting down on emissions. Most food travels 1640 km before it gets to you. Your food's footprint, or “foodprint,” is more or less carbon-intensive depending on the shipping method. For example, a plane creates more emissions than a cargo ship. There are other factors at play here as well, like what you’re eating. A beef-heavy diet has 1.73 times the carbon footprint than a beef-free diet and 2.2 times that of a vegan diet.

Since your CSA grows everything locally, you’ll also be more connected to seasons. Although they won’t be able to provide everything you’re used to buying from the grocery, you’ll partake in the bounty that’s grown close to home. We might not be able to quantify this in the traditional way, but if you’ve ever eaten a carrot right out of the ground or discovered a new favorite vegetable at your winter farmer’s market, you’ve experienced this joy.

I Buy Organic Produce. Should I Still Join a CSA?

Join a CSA

Some organic farms are a part of big-agriculture. And big-ag is generally not so concerned with environmental effects. In Cuyama Valley, CA, the groundwater has been depleted by food conglomerates and other, stranger bedfellows, such as Harvard, for years. When you join a CSA, your money goes to farmers. Instead of supporting corporations with vague intentions, you’re supporting people who are connected to the land. 

Sounds great, right? So why isn’t everyone a part of the CSA movement? Folks, we’ve reached our elephant in the room moment: What do you do with that strange produce? If you’ve been a part of a CSA before and couldn’t find a way to use all the rhubarb, you’ll know what we mean.

Take It One Meal at a Time

Like much in life, making the most of your CSA comes down to habits

I can only speak for myself, but I’ve noticed that I tend to make choices that value convenience over my and the earth’s health when I’m stressed. That’s also when I’m more likely to start yelling obscenities over someone else’s driving style — or lack thereof. 

I think part of the reason we make choices of convenience is to sustain what’s unsustainable in our daily lives. There’s no scientific basis for that thesis, but I encourage you to look at your habits and dig in. What’s happening when you reach for the unhealthy thing: Are you stressed? Overworked? Feel like you have no other option?  

CSAs ask us to slow down. For example, in our local box this week, dandelion greens and Chioggia beets were on offer. What’s a girl who doesn’t like beets to do? Well, this is what CSAs ask us to figure out. How can we connect with our food?  

To do this intelligently, we need to examine why we make the easier choice. And then we have to make the seemingly harder choice, well, easier. Joining a CSA is one way to reconnect to the land, participate in your community, and create health and wellbeing. It might take some work at first, but it’s probably easier in the long run.

How to Find Your Perfect CSA

If you're convinced, great! It's time to find the perfect CSA. Local Harvest lists them by region and is also a wonderful resource.

CSA Large Box

Once you’ve found the program that fits your lifestyle, consider how you’ll make it work long-term. Your box will be full of vegetables that you may have never seen before, and once you see some of them, you may never want to see them again. The key to a successful relationship with a CSA is being willing to go on a culinary adventure every week. Whether that means Googling “top ten things to do with parsnips” or getting a subscription to Milk Street, how you approach this challenge is up to you.

If you join a CSA and it's just not your thing, remember that there are other ways to contribute to positive change. Find what works, and keep making one small change at a time.