CSA stands for Community-Supported Agriculture. CSAs operate on a business model that benefits both the farmers and the customers. Members purchase shares before the growing season starts so farmers get capital at the beginning of the season to pay for most of their costs. Customers receive a weekly box (or bag) of fresh local produce all season long.
This is my first year with a CSA membership and I only wish I'd done this sooner. I researched some of the Buffalo area CSAs and chose Porter Farms. I have not been disappointed! I actually split my share with a friend, which has worked out perfectly. I would never have been able to eat that much food myself, but half of it is perfect for one vegetarian to eat in a week. I can't believe how much money I've saved on groceries since the season started in the spring. I paid half of the cost of a $310 share which, when divided by 23 weeks, comes to about $7 a week. Considering the amount of food I receive each week, and the fact that it's all organic, I estimate that the same food would have cost me at least $50 at a grocery store. That's a savings of about $43 every week. (For 23 weeks that's $989!)
Not only has the CSA membership done great things for my wallet and my diet, I love knowing that it does great things for the planet too. According to the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, most produce travels between 1300 and 2000 miles to get to the consumer. That's a lot of fuel to burn for a salad. Buying local produce cuts down on air pollution, and buying organic produce means that less chemicals are dumped into the ground.
Want to Join a CSA?
If you're in the Buffalo area, you can try Porter Farms out for yourself. They even offer a sample bag. You can get a week's worth of organic produce for free before you commit to join.
I chose my CSA based on pickup location and produce offerings. There are other farms in the area that offer different produce, free-range beef, orchards offering fruit shares, and more. You may want to do some research to decide which CSA is right for you or your family.
Here are some additional sites and tools to help you locate a CSA here and around the country.
- Local Harvest has a great farm finder tool right on their home page.
- The Rodale Institute also offers a pretty handy Farm Locator.
- The AgMap is a map of agriculture businesses in the U.S.
- EatWell Guide lets you search for local, sustainable, and organic food by key word, zip code, or city.