This time of year, friends and neighbors ask me for CSA recommendations. They figure that since I created this blog, I must have some insider knowledge.
Alas, asking me which CSA to join is like asking what entree you should order from a menu. Only you know what you like. Still, I try to be helpful. I can share a few tips.
In the past 4 years, I've been a member of a different CSA each season, including summer and winter, including veggies, fruits, and meat. You might say I'm finicky, but I found that my needs have changed each year. And, I like to spread my food dollars around, so I buy from lots of producers.
I've found that the important factors for me are: organically-produced, value, convenient pickup, and variety.
In the past, I thought that pickup at a farm was going to be fun and easy, but with a toddler at the end of the day, it just wasn't. Then, I thought pickup at the farmers market would be nice, because I could buy bread and whatnot while I was there. But trudging around with two kids under the age of five and lugging heavy bags, I wished I had a cart from Wegmans. For me, it is not convenient to do weekly family grocery shopping at the farmers market, unless you bring a wagon and make multiple trips back to your car.
Here's a brief history of the CSA's I have experienced, and some of the thoughts I had about each one. Perhaps my thoughts will help you figure out what's important to you?
The Small Friendly CSA: Great variety, great people! But alas, they no longer offer an Ithaca CSA. Location matters!
The Volume CSA: Oodles and oodles of four amazing, high value crops. In the future, I'll pay more attention to the variety offered.
The Big, Bad CSA: Nothing's worse than getting a frozen stalk of brussels sprouts only to see your CSA farm selling beautiful, abundant produce at that week's farmers market. So now I will ask, do you offer your best produce to your CSA members? Is the CSA a priority for you?
The CSA with Roots: A great winter CSA here is always heavy on the roots. Before signing up again, I'll ask myself if my family can really consume so many.
A Meat CSA: We ate it, and we liked it, but not sure it was a value. Perhaps I can get a better value by buying part of an animal in bulk?
The Winter Fruit CSA: Frozen berries, lovely cider, and lots and lots of apples. Again, I am a stickler for value, so I'm now trying to do my own u-pick, freezing, and canning.
A Summer Fruit CSA: Lots of wonderfully exotic-to-me-but-local fruit. What a great introduction to unusual fruit! But alas, I was the only one in my house eating them, so before I sign up again, I have to ask myself if I can do it alone.