CSAs and You

Many times when I mention we offer a CSA program here at Misty Ridge, people step back and look at me like I’m talking about a communicable disease. When I explain what “CSA” stands for, they become more interested in learning more about these programs and how their families can join one.

What is CSA, and why would I want one?
CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and it’s just that: agriculture supported by the community, for the community. It’s a popular and easy way for individuals and families alike to buy local, fresh produce and other items directly from the farmer.

How does CSA work?
The farmer offers garden “shares” to the public. When you buy a share, you are literally buying into the garden, so you have a small piece of ownership. In exchange, you receive weekly boxes that contain seasonal produce, eggs, or other farm products. Some CSAs throw in jams, jellies, or other canned items. Many CSAs offer a certain degree of flexibility in box size (from ½ bushel to larger, family-sized bushel boxes) and delivery locations.

Freshly picked corn is just one of the offerings you’ll find in many CSA boxes.

How big is ½ a bushel? A bushel?
A ½ bushel box measures 13” x 13” in length and width, and 6 1/16” in depth. A bushel measures 17 ½” x 17 ½” in length and width, and 7 1/16” in depth. Boxes will vary from CSA to CSA, but these sizes are a good go-by.

What will I receive in a CSA box?
As the growing and harvesting season progresses, you will get a variety of things. It could range from familiar items such as lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers to less familiar items such as rutabagas, acorn squash, endives, or kohlrabi. Many times, I hear ‘but I don’t know what that is…I don’t like that and I don’t want it!’ Each CSA is different but many share the same viewpoint that one of the purposes of a membership program is to expose folks to things they may not otherwise try, such as that rutabaga. One thing to keep in mind is that your CSA may have many members and it is difficult for the farmer for custom-pack each box for delivery in a timely manner. From my perspective as being ‘new’ to managing a CSA program, my goal is to harvest, wash, pack, and deliver the boxes to you as quickly as possible. Managing even a small CSA doesn’t allow for much time to customize boxes.

However, many CSAs do provide recipe cards for help on what to do with those rutabagas, kohlrabis, etc.

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The opportunity to try new things, such as these eggplants, are all part of the value a CSA box can provide.

This sounds great…but what are some drawbacks?
One major drawback is that since you are buying shares, or buying into, the crop/garden, you also share in the same risk as the farmer does. For example, one year may be that perfect year with the perfect combination of rain and sun. However, the following year may be one of excessive drought and the crops are less than stellar.

Another drawback is cost. Sure, you can go to your local grocer’s produce section and buy produce cheaper. But do you know where that came from? Do you know what has been used to clean and even polish the produce (take a look at how shiny and slick the cucumbers are)? Is it local? Is it organic? How long was it on the shipping truck? Purchasing shares in a CSA eliminates many of these questions. In our CSA, I plant, care for, harvest, clean, and deliver to you. Other CSA farms may have more helpers, but the point remains – you know the farmer and your food.

Many times, I’m asked (and I’m sure other farmers are, too) about the cost of our CSA. What most don’t realize is all the planning, and labor that goes into bringing the food to your table. Although you may get 10-12 weeks of weekly box delivery, in fact, I’ve been working on the garden since early- to mid-February. Planning, starting seeds indoors, researching and purchasing seeds from reputable sources, then comes planting day on or around April 15. Once the seeds/plants are put outdoors, then the real work begins. Weed and pest control are a top priority, and the garden must be tended on a daily basis. Once plants are producing, then harvesting must be done every day or every other day to ensure continued production. Once harvested, produce is then washed using water, and water only. It’s then dried, packed for delivery, then off it goes!

How can I find a CSA that’s a perfect fit for me?
Here are some great resources and farms that you may want to check out:

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LocalHarvest.org – enter your zip code and find farms close to you

Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network – a network of growers, consumers, and information specific to Alabama

Clean Food Network – This is a partnership of local farmers in North Alabama.

A few CSA-specific farms:

Doe Run Farm

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Misty Ridge


Reed Farms

In summary, joining a CSA program is a great investment for you and your family. You’ll not only be receiving fresh, local, and healthy food, you will also be supporting a local business and farmer!