what do you wish you would have known when you picked out your CSA?
January 29, 2009 1:13 PM   Subscribe

For those of you who have gotten shares in a CSA, what information do you think would be helpful to someone trying to choose which CSA to participate in? More specifically, any recommendations on CSAs in the Twin Cities area?

I work at a twin cities food co op, and am trying to put together a guide to local CSAs that we can offer to our customers. There is some information available online, but much of it is outdated and difficult to navigate, plus there are so many factors to consider that it's difficult to organize the information. For those that have experience with CSAs, what information do you think would be helpful to someone choosing which CSA is right for them?

So far, I'm thinking I could make a chart showing cost, what kinds of foods are generally offered, how much food is included in each share, when the food will start and finish arriving, how often shares will arrive, how food will be obtained (whether it can be delivered or must be picked up), whether food is organic, a little general information on the farm itself and whether they offer any other opportunities for share owners (like visits to the farm/recipes etc).

Any ideas would be greatly appreciated! And, of course, if you have any experience with a twin cities CSA, I would love to hear about it. Thanks so much!
posted by ialwayscryatendings to Food & Drink (12 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: A guide to your local CSAs is a really fantastic idea. I wish someone around here would do that!

The biggest two things I'd want in a guide like that would be what kinds of foods are grown and offered, and cost (total, and then a per week figure). Those are always what I'm comparing when I'm checking out various CSAs. Other important things would be: Where do you get shares--are they picked up or dropped off? When do you get the shares? What kind of farming practices does the farm use (are they organic in all but certification? and so on)?

A guide like this would be even more valuable if whoever made it called around to the farms that do shares but don't have a website.

Good luck!
posted by hought20 at 1:23 PM on January 29, 2009

What hought20 said and-

Find out what growers do if a crop fails or does poorly- do they supplement with the same produce obtained from another grower to maintain variety or do they fill in/ substitute with their own crops that are plentiful- and possibly redundant.
posted by hellboundforcheddar at 1:59 PM on January 29, 2009

Here's an example of a guide to Portland, OR area CSA's that I found useful. It's very, very basic, but it nevertheless manages to convey the salient points in a pretty efficient manner.
posted by dersins at 2:24 PM on January 29, 2009

I have experience _shopping_ for a CSA, but not yet using one. Here's a feature that I'd like to know about: whether there's a "vacation week" built in to the scheme, so that I won't "lose" a week's worth of produce if I'm out of town for a week or two.

Even if only one of your providers offers this, having it on your chart might encourage others to try it.

One thing that's bugged me is that the "quantity" figures I'm seeing are something like "a large box" or "enough for two people". If there was some kind of weight range, or even better, photos of past shares -- with the understanding and disclaimer that this isn't a binding contract -- that would be awesome.

Another thing that's held me back a little is not being certain how much history each provider has, so that I could thus infer how dependable they were likely to be. I don't know if you can convey that kind of information, but it would be really great.

Finally, it would be nice to know whether they grew all, some, or no organic produce.

Thanks for doing this!
posted by amtho at 2:30 PM on January 29, 2009

Best answer: I get a CSA share each summer here in Minneapolis, and one thing I would have loved to know when I was CSA shopping was where the pickup locations are if they don't deliver directly to homes. Aside from the "How much do I get for my money?" question, the most important thing is whether it'll be convenient or a hassle for me to get my veggies every week.

It was also my experience while CSA shopping that many of the farmers are not particularly tech-savvy or even advertising-savvy, so their websites (if they even existed) were very out of date or useless. But if you call those people, they are more than happy to explain how everything works.

The MN Dept. of Agriculture has a Minnesota-Grown pamphlet and website that I'm sure you're familiar with. The website will let you search for CSAs and might give you a good list of farmers to contact for information to put in your guide.

For the past 3 summers I've gone with the Easy Bean Farm out of Milan, MN, and I've been nothing but pleased. They deliver to several pickup locations around the metro and are taking reservations for this year.
posted by vytae at 2:41 PM on January 29, 2009

Best answer: I think the more information on farming practices the better. A lot of people who join CSAs are interested in making sure their food is produced in a way that is gentle on the environment and fair to agricultural workers and producers, but don't necessarily have the time or inclination to do the digging and investigate the practices of all their local farms. I belong to a combined CSA that includes a lot of producers, and the more I think about it this would be really helpful--some of the producers don't have websites, so to have all of this information in a handy guide would be great. Of course, practices change, so having it online or somewhere it could be easily updated would be even better.

It also might be helpful to include an actual sample week, where you list not just the kinds of things that can be expected but exactly what was included that week. Maybe two weeks in a row or weeks in different seasons to show the variability.

In choosing a CSA, though, I've got to say that the most helpful thing to me would be talking to people who are currently members and seeing what they like and don't like. That's another reason an online guide might be useful, so that people could comment and discuss their experiences.
posted by motherly corn at 2:46 PM on January 29, 2009

Oh, and if you're planning to put in general info about CSA shopping, you might want to mention that many small farmers cannot afford to seek USDA Organic certification, even if they follow organic practices. So when you're categorizing these farms, keep that in mind.

One thing that I've really liked about participating in the CSA is that we're invited to stop by the farm to visit and help, any time we want. Reading the newsletter each week, getting emails from the farmer, having the opportunity to GO to the farm and see it with my own eyes - that's the stuff that makes me feel like I can trust this food to be safe and healthy and good for the environment, not some expensive stamp of approval from a government regulatory agency.
posted by vytae at 2:46 PM on January 29, 2009

Here's what I value about the CSA(s) I use (twosmallfarms):

- they include storage tips for all items in each week's delivery
- they have a huge library of recipes of said items on their website
- they value returning customers and give us priority on the sign-up list
- they offer fresh flowers as an add-on. some other CSAs (not ours) offer nuts, meats, breads.
- their newsletter often details farm practices and anecdotes about their farm in particular. for example, a recent one explained how they got their specific tomatillos (learning from a friend), what's special about them, and why they like growing them
- consumption of the weekly delivery is actually feasible for a 2-person household. we only end up with leftovers when we're lazy.
- the pick-up location near me is open until 8-9 pm. that was actually the most important thing to us before signing up. most have ridiculously inconvenient hours for the 9-6 crowd.

so find a way to quantify some of those factors, and you'll help your audience immensely
posted by SeƱor Pantalones at 3:03 PM on January 29, 2009

Response by poster: great information so far you guys!! keep it coming!
posted by ialwayscryatendings at 9:45 PM on January 29, 2009

Two of my coworkers used La Finca last year and seemed to like it. Also, I was always really jealous of all the fruits and veggies they brought into the office.

You probably know this, but the Seward Coop does an annual CSA Fair every spring, which is a really neat idea.
posted by lunasol at 12:12 AM on January 30, 2009

If it's a CSA with a dropoff location, rather than home delivery, make sure you have an exact address rather than just a city or neighborhood. The sole deciding factor in picking my CSA (heading into 2nd season with them just now) was that I could pick up my box on my walk home from the train. There are plenty of other CSAs that deliver to Palo Alto, but there's a big difference between walking by my pickup location every day and having to drive two miles to get there.
posted by crinklebat at 6:46 PM on January 31, 2009

We have a half share with Easy Bean as well. We spent a lot of time talking to farmers at the Living Green Expo and there was something really valuable about that for us. No idea how you'd capture that on paper.
posted by advicepig at 2:41 PM on February 3, 2009

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