QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF BEFORE JOINING A CSA
CSA stands for "Community Supported Agriculture." It's a great way to get to know and support a local farm, and get a wide variety of fresh, seasonal produce. But it's not the only way!
What’s the difference between joining a CSA and shopping at a farmer’s market? Which choice is right for me? Why would someone join a CSA?
These questions are something everyone considering joining a CSA should ask themselves. The reality is, CSA is not a good fit for every customer, and we want to help you make the right decision for you (and your family) so that your expectations are met, and you end up a happy customer - however you choose to buy from us!
1. IS THE RELATIONSHIP TO THE ACTUAL FARMER IMPORTANT TO YOU? (DO YOU WANT TO SUPPORT A FARMER?)
CSA members want to be able to shake the hand that feeds them: to connect the farmer’s face with the food they prepare for their families. There’s no faceless food in CSA!
There’s something rewarding about knowing you are doing your part to support a local farmer. CSA is a great addition to your weekly routine that allows you to access great-tasting food AND to know the farmers whose livelihood relies on it.
Joining a CSA means that you are committed to staying with a specific farmer through an entire season, come thick and thin. Inherent in this arrangement is the understanding that there is risk in farming. Mother Nature is the real boss, and she may send scorching sun or pouring rain or bug plagues, and a certain crop may not appear in your share that season. On the flip side, there may be a bumper crop of tomatoes or cucumbers, and you’ll be swimming in the summer bounty.
CSA members live with and embrace this reality every day.
Their motivation for supporting the farm is just as much about having the back of the farmer as it is about getting the full financial value of the share.
Make sure you read that last sentence again. It’s kinda huge.
And this relationship goes both ways. When you join a CSA, your farmer will work to cultivate a connection with you. We try to add value to your life, by teaching you about the story of growing the food and how to prepare it.
So, where do you fall?
- Yes, I care about knowing my farmer.
- No, it doesn’t really matter to me.
2. DO YOU VALUE HAVING QUALITY VEGETABLE INGREDIENTS THAT ACTUALLY TASTE GOOD?
Sad, tasteless grocery store tomatoes in winter. Tiny kale bunches that turn to slime in your fridge within a couple of days.
If you’re a good potential CSA member, you know these frustrations well. Taste matters!
One of the most important qualities of our CSA “masters” (folks who stick with the CSA) is that they love food. Real food. Food that tastes the way it should, because it’s grown with care in healthy soil & picked right before delivery. In fact, CSAs often create food snobs, because once you taste how a carrot should really taste, you can’t go back to the watered down version at the store.
If you really love cooking & you value taste, then you will LOVE being in a CSA. Our CSA is all about providing high-quality, artisan vegetables that make your home dining a delicious experience. You’re paying for that taste when you join a CSA.
If you’re looking for a basic celery and carrot at the cheapest price so you can make an iceberg salad CSA is not your gig.
How much does taste matter to you?
- Yep, 100% taste matters to me.
- No, maybe not quite as much as the dollar value does.
3. ARE YOU WILLING TO TRY NEW FOODS? (REALLY?)
CSAs will push you to try new foods & explore variety and seasonality in the kitchen. You will discover some veggies that you love. You’ll also discover some veggies you might have to learn to love.
Part of the CSA experience means getting exposed to a bunch of veggies you may have never seen before. We put them in your box but we will also teach you how to eat them. We know that left to your own devices you’d never put kohlrabi in your CSA box. (Or would you? If so, you would definitely click with CSA!) It’s all a part of the bigger goal in CSA of cultivating food diversity and teaching our communities (and our kids) how to eat seasonally again.
We aren't going to leave you totally alone with your weird new veggies - we have a weekly newsletter and offer recipes and guides for how to use up or preserve your weekly bounty. There's also a private Facebook group that you'll gain access to, where you can share a community with other CSA members just like you.
How do you feel about trying new veggies?
- Yes, definitely into it.
- Not sure I'm into it.
4. DO YOU NEED CONTROL IN YOUR MENU PLANNING?
CSA members have to learn to be flexible with their weekly menu. We give you a few days notice about what will be in your box, but being willing to swap out ingredients and make things work in the kitchen makes the experience much smoother.
Some people love this kind of spontaneity—others get stressed by it.
Think hard on this: Are you willing to give up some control over what veggies you get each week? Or do you need to live by your plan?
If you really want to stick to your plan, you might be better off buying exactly what you want from the farmers market or a grocery store. The most common reason members leave the CSA is that they didn’t get enough of the things they wanted, and too much of what they didn’t want.
CSA works best for customers who see their kitchen as a creative space, and our veggies as the paint for their canvas.
How flexible do you feel when it comes to meal planning?
- Yes, I can go with the flow.
- No, I need to stick to my plan.
5. ARE YOU WILLING TO WORK AT EATING THE CSA WAY?
CSA takes some time to see results. It can sometimes take a season or two to really master making the most of your CSA box every week. That means you will waste some food early on, as you go through your learning curve.
Come into this experience with an adventurous spirit and be forgiving of yourself if you fail to eat the whole box at first. It’s really hard to do, especially if you’re a CSA rookie!
There will be many weeks when you have the best intentions to be a super-chef and maximize your CSA experience, and then real life sets in and you’ll find yourself eating raw broccoli with ranch dip. It can sometimes feel like you’re “failing” at your original goal to change the way you eat, but remember: eating more vegetables, even if it’s just with ranch, is already a win. Some veggies may rot in your fridge in a particularly hectic week, and that's okay. Believe it or not, this still happens to your farmers too. It takes time to develop new habits, and to learn how to eat nimbly when you’re starting with raw veggies.
Realize that if changing the way you eat is your goal, it takes some time to learn the skill sets. Set realistic goals for your first season, and work your way up to it. We’ll be there to help with tips & tricks and recipes every week of the season.
Are you ready to do the work?
- Yes, I am IN for the whole CSA journey.
- No, I’m not quite sure this is my style.
6. ARE YOU LOOKING FOR A “DEAL?” ARE YOU COMPARING CSA PRICES TO THE GROCERY STORE?
People who fully embrace the CSA model don’t look for their membership to be a “deal” or a bargain. And they don’t compare the CSA experience to the grocery store price table.
Read that again. This is a really key point.
It is absolutely understandable to ask, “how much does it cost?” and then weigh the pros and cons.
Supporting a CSA financially however is not just about doing a cost analysis of each vegetable you receive in your box and comparing it to what you’d pay at Albertsons or Winco.
Our vegetables have added value because each of our vegetables is telling a story. Not just a story about how it was raised, harvested, or what struggles it faced on the way to your plate. Not just the story of your farmer and how you are helping them live out their calling to the land.
Every vegetable is also telling your unfolding story.
Our vegetables become a means to an end: they showcase your journey with food. They are the starring attraction in your quest to master the kitchen and prepare a delicious meal to rival any restaurant fare—a meal you can be proud of. This is not something any grocery store can give you.
CSA customers appreciate this added value of our product, and are willing to pay for it.
So, if you’re saying to yourself, “well, that’s more than you’d pay at ______” you may want to hit the pause button on this.
Are you looking for the best deal or for a new experience?
- Yes, I want the CSA experience.
- No, I really prefer to get the best deal possible.
SO, HOW DID YOU DO?
Remember, CSA is just one model out there for getting fresh farm-direct food to your table.
For those who value the story, the journey, and the farmer relationship, it can be a great opportunity to change the way you eat forever. But there’s no shame in passing on CSA and instead visiting the weekly farmers market. And in fact it may be a better fit for your style or needs. We do both, so we just want you to find the right fit!
As in all things, expectations determine how you experience the product. To set yourself up for CSA success, make sure your expectations align with the philosophy of CSA before you take the plunge!
If you think you’re ready, here are your next steps:
- Head over to our CSA Store.
- Purchase the share frequency that fits your needs (weekly or bi-weekly).
- Pay online via PayPal checkout.
- You’ll get a confirmation email from us!
THINKING CSA MAYBE ISN'T FOR YOU? CONSIDER A MARKET SHARE INSTEAD!
We offer a program called "Market Shares" at our booth at the Valley Junction Farmers Market in West Des Moines. Essentially you pre-purchase a declining balance used toward your Farmers Market purchases in our booth. We manage everything using a gift card we keep in our register at market, so you never have to worry about forgetting your share: simply come to market, shop, we'll swipe your card & you are on your way! Market Shares can be used to purchase anything for sale in our booth: veggies, flowers, plant starts, etc.
Market Shares are a great way to support the farm because they still provide us the up front capital we need at the start of the season (just like CSA). We use those dollars to purchase seeds and supplies needed to grow your veggies & flowers. BUT: you get to choose only the veggies you want, and get to enjoy the easiest shopping experience ever all market season long. It's pretty neat!
However, we do grow certain crops SPECIFICALLY for our CSA customers, so if you really want to try a little bit of everything, you can still consider CSA membership!