We tend to research all sorts of purchases, from houses to cars to TVs and computers. How much time do we spend looking for our food, the very thing that keeps us alive?
Here are a few things that may help in finding a CSA program for you.
Is it locally grown? This term ‘local’ has a broad definition. It used to mean close to home or work. Now it could be 75 miles or state wide or even regional. The term in my mind was originally used to describe farms that are smaller and you could go visit. Basically we are trying to differentiate between the big commercial growers that are selling product nationally versus the small grower that sells in his hometown or surrounding area. There are health benefits to eating local. Local food normally has a makeup of certain antibodies that are related to their environment so eating truly local food does support the immune system.
Is the food labeled organic? Lots of people claim to be organic. If they are they will be registered on the Organic website section of the USDA, look their name up and see if they are listed. If they are not there they are not organic. We follow organic practices, not the same as organic. If we develop a problem then we take care of it. Like one farmer explained to me, if your house had termites would you give the house to the termites or kill the termites? We encourage people to buy your food based on the food not the label.
Is the CSA grown by one farm or a co-operative venture? It is hard for one farm to grow enough variety to satisfy most CSA customers, generally speaking there will be at least one crop failure every year, just different crops. “Co-oping” is becoming more the norm today. In our case we have three other growers that help fill the bag. Hurley Farms does the sweet corn for us because that is their specialty. We also get a few odd and ends from them like the little pickles and pickling pack that everyone loved. Hirsh Farms does the fruit: Strawberries, apples, peaches, pears, cider. Sara Bee provides the honey. We cannot do a good job on all those different products so we have these farmers help out.
Who is handling your food? Does it come from the farmer or from someone else for delivery? Coming from the farmer gives you one set of people handling your food. As for a food safety purpose, the fewer times the food changes hands the less chance there is to have an issue. This is not an absolute, just stating the odds. There are some good delivery groups out there that food safety is key for them as well. Food hubs in my opinion right now are just a grocery store on wheels. They are multi sourced from farms and even auction houses. Who has handled it and how far are you from the source of growing, in miles and time?
Does the CSA you chose meet your needs? There are lots of different sizes of programs out there. Are the delivery schedules within your needs and can you work with the farmer? Simple questions but they should be asked.
Lastly, is the CSA program for you? This probably should be the first question! A true CSA program has benefits for both the consumer and farmer. The consumer gets to have a “piece “of the farm. If it does well the box is overflowing and you are canning or freezing something that year. If it is a bad year then the consumer shares in that as well. Some crops may be absent or in short supply. The farmer gets to have the security that a percentage of his crop is sold and hopefully paid for. Both parties benefit from the fact they are working together in the absence of a middleman taking his cut.
This has turned into a longer piece than intended! the short version is check out the CSA that appeals to you, in less than 5 minutes you can have most of the answers you will need .The internet is a great thing to type a name in and see where it goes. Be realistic and read the offerings. Ohio has a lot to offer but in seasons. It is hard to get Ohio sweet corn and peaches in May!