You have decided to join a CSA and are eager to find one.
There is only one issue. “How do you start?”
Finding that “right” CSA can be challenging. This article will help you determine the questions you need to ask yourself. What makes CSAs distinct from one another? What are the features you should be searching for? How can you find these features?
The following article provides the questions you must ask yourself when looking at the different CSAs within your vicinity. This will be a reference guide to help you navigate and make an informed decision.
Where to Find the CSAs?
First, find the farms in your region which provide CSA. How do you locate them?
Fortunately, there’s an easy response to your question. And it’s www.LocalHarvest.org. This website is where farmers can list their farms and CSA. Since it’s free, the majority of farmers use it.
If you are trying to know what CSAs are available in your area, this is the right site to look at. Just click on the search bar towards the top, then search for “CSA,” then enter your city or zip code into the search field next to the search bar.
Your search results will display all CSAs within a specific mile distance. These farms will be listed alphabetically in order.
Check Out the Available Delivery Choices
The next step in helping you to narrow down your CSA is to look up the time frame for pick-up or delivery alternatives.
CSAs have multiple locations to purchase their goods. They typically offer their farm produce at home, but most will have at least one alternative to pick up their goods.
These pick-up times are generally set weekly, and the pick-up times are fixed. If you don’t get to the time, you can eliminate that particular CSA out of consideration.
Some farms offer multiple pick-up locations. Others will provide only some. It isn’t important who is the one with the best. The most important thing is: “Does the farm offer a pick-up site that works for me?” During the COVID-19 season, numerous farms have shifted to a drive-through, contact-free pick-up. In addition, more farms are offering delivery than ever before.
If convenience is essential, consider looking for a CSA that offers home delivery. Be aware that farms charge a fair penny for this service — typically between $7-10 for each delivery. However, you’ll still have to be responsible for placing a large cooler on your patio with ice so that when the package arrives in the morning heat, your driver can place your product in a cool spot until you are home. Your relationship with your farmer will likely be less strong if you select this option because you don’t see them weekly at the pick-up.
To do this, you’ll have to ask yourself, “How vital is the pick-up location to you? Do you think it is more important than all other options? Do I require a farm that has home delivery? Perhaps you are a bit flexible?” What if the pick-up location is close to the other, but a different farm (which is farther away) has a share of fruits or is organically certified?
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Kind of Shares Offered
Shares are usually available in a variety of sizes. Select the size that is suitable for your family.
CSAs will have different plans and “share” types, and during this process, you will need to evaluate the options and choose which one you’d like to purchase. Apart from veggie shares, you may find egg shares, chicken shares, coffee shares, cheese shares, bread shares, milk shares, flower shares, beef shares, honey shares, and flower shares.
One of the things that customers frequently appreciate, one of the things they like about CSAs is that they provide a “one-stop” shop for a large variety of local goods. A few people are impressed by the convenience of having a single CSA that offers everything they need in one location.
This is one method you can evaluate CSAs. Certain CSAs will offer one type of share. Others will provide the complete kit and the caboodle. Others will fall somewhere between. It is up to you to determine whether that is the single most crucial aspect.
Check Out the Growing Practices
If you are concerned about what’s being put into your food, ensure that you look at a USDA Certified Organic Label.
Most people searching for a CSA are drawn to the idea of helping farmers in their area, getting involved in sustainable agriculture, and protecting the environment and clean eating.
There are a myriad of available labels, such as “organic,” “made with organic,” “certified organic,” “100% organic,” “grown using organic practices,” “in transition,” and “conventional.”
Find out what these terms are because they’re not all the same. The most prestigious can be “certified organic” or “100% organic.” Find out which words are essential for you. Don’t be shocked if farms with a gold standard have been priced more.
Available Choices for a Buyer
CSAs differ in the way they distribute their farm’s products to you.
Certain CSAs will determine what you will likely receive in your week’s share. They prepare it for you in the morning or the night before. It is then picked up and headed out.
Free Choice CSA
Certain CSAs will offer you the option of choosing ALL. They collect what they have and set it out at the pick-up location, then indicate how much of each product you are allowed to take. You can pack your portion in real-time when you pick it up.
Some CSA’s may have sophisticated software that lets customers set their own vegetable preferences and pre-order their share online before the week. They will send you an email that explains what’s available to harvest, and you are able to enter the software and alter the contents of the box.
If you don’t complete the process, you will receive what’s known as the “default box” for the week (like the traditional CSA). You can claim, “I don’t want the cilantro. Instead, I want an extra serving of lettuce.” You could even add additional items over and over.
A few farmers permit you to purchase “store credit” or a gift card. You can then show up at the pick-up location each week to “buy down” from your credit card. You can also go to the online shop available to CSA Members and then “customize” your order to match the weekly allotment. They might place some limitations on the amount you can purchase certain products.
Additionally, some CSAs provide “extras” – above and above the pre-packed core box. You can select additionally enjoyable or unique items to include in your share by choosing from the boxes of bonus items for no cost.
Each option clearly has pros and cons.
If you are a fan of letting someone else choose the food you will eat for the week and have an adventurous spirit, you’ll appreciate having a pre-packed box. If you’re looking for anyone or someone to “force you” to try new items, you might be awed by the pre-packed box.
However, you may want to consider choosing your own food items because you want more control over your meal plans. If so, you will look for a CSA that provides a customizable box model or a “You Pick” option.
Calculate the Cost
Once you have compiled the list of shares you are looking for, evaluating the cost of investing is essential. Be aware that CSAs are usually more expensive than the cost of grocery stores if you record every item you purchase.
When you are looking at the numbers, make sure to take into account certain factors. Be aware of the size and the type of share. This is often difficult to define because various farms refer to their shares under multiple names. For instance, you could find words such as “Standard share,” “Full share,” “Half share,” “Family Share,” “Senior Share,” and many more.
AGRIKULTURE TODAY always advises those just starting out in their CSA to pick the smallest size share, something like a half-share or a standard share. The larger (and higher-priced) shares are designed for families with more than four kids and who eat or preserve a lot of vegetables each week. Don’t go overboard if you are just beginning and getting your feet wet. Begin to integrate into the CSA method of living slowly, and you will get used to it.
Another method of comparing prices is to know the length of time during the farm’s CSA season. Some run 18 weeks, 20 weeks, and 25 weeks. Certain will have different seasons, breaking into summer, spring, winter, or fall seasons.
In the end, you’ll need to calculate. Look for two share types with similar numbers. Divide the price of shares that are similar in weeks in order to calculate your cost per week. This will let you evaluate apples against apples.
You will probably notice that some farms might have an increased cost per week than others. If you observe that before you go off, you might think about asking yourself, “Why is that?” Look over the additional features offered as part of their membership package. It could be that these features have additional value. Make sure you pay for features you are sure you’ll need.
Find out whether your CSA has a membership site or a private Facebook group in which you can seek out help from other people in the CSA for eating the food you have purchased.
It’s also true that a lot of CSA newbies face a stumbling block in their first year when they begin to receive items they don’t know how to use or are overwhelmed by greens, corn, or tomatoes. They don’t know how to store their goods, so they last for as long as possible.
Find out whether your CSA provides training on how to use the box. If so, to what extent? What are they doing to help you use the product after you have it at home?
The CSAs’ primary responsibility is cultivating your food, providing you with the best quality products from their fields that taste better than anything you can buy at the supermarket. However, the majority of CSAs these days are trying to provide you with suggestions on how to make use of their products. At a minimum, it’s fairly standard for CSAs to provide daily recipes and tips for storage.
This is an essential aspect of the long-term satisfaction of our customers. Many CSAs offer strategies for removing vegetables from the garden and freezing techniques and how to manage your stock so that you do not overspend on food, kitchen tools that you require to be successful, and a list of specific skills you need to acquire at the table, the most common mistakes that rookies make, video ebooks on each vegetable, vegetable videos on cooking, and more.
They also have an exclusive Facebook page, where CSA members can interact and learn from one another. It’s an enormous group of foodies talking to one another. It’s an amazing bonus feature for members.
There are exceptions, but not all CSAs offer this service in this manner. Perhaps you don’t require this type of assistance. Then it’s a question of the most important thing to you. Find out what kind of training/education and support CSAs can provide you with the produce they grow.
Payment Options and Refund Policies
Most CSAs will require that you pay some amount of money when you sign up as a sign of “good faith.” This will help the farmer avoid needing loans to pay for their expenses before the season gets underway.
However, the payment plans vary between farms. For some, this could be a major issue. Most farms will require 50% down when you sign up and the remaining 50% down on June 1 (with some exceptions necessary). This is fairly typical. However, certain CSAs may have a lower amount for deposits, such as $50, with the balance due the week before the season gets underway.
More and more CSA farms provide the option of a weekly subscription. You pay for the services as you go. If you want to rest for a week, simply visit and place your CSA “on hold” for the week. The subscription is in effect until you decide to cancel it.
The payment methods are also diverse. Cash, credit cards, cheques, and bank accounts are among the most commonly used options.
Be aware that using credit cards could be practical for you, but it will cost the farmer around 3% of the total costs in charges. If you’re buying a big-ticket item such as the CSA share, this is a significant amount!
The thumb rule is that once the season begins, “you commit for the year no matter what.” However, the majority of CSA farmers will reimburse your money if you cancel prior to the start of the season or in the event that you have to relocate during the season. However, some CSAs will reimburse you when departing because of dissatisfaction with the CSA experience during the mid-season.
If you judge your farmers on this policy, take a moment to think about their position. It’s a huge challenge for an agriculturalist to have a large number of people who leave in the middle of the season, leaving them with unfilled spaces and revenue gaps they had hoped to fill but couldn’t take up.
For certain online people, having a solid online presence and brand is essential. Because so many people use social media daily, we depend heavily on the platform we use to make us feel more connected to the farm.
Visit the CSAs’ websites to find out whether they have any advantages online. For instance, do they have a blog that you could learn from? Other PDFs to download like a calendar for harvest and How to Storage Guide? Do they contain a Recipe collection or cooking techniques?
AGRIKULTURE TODAY advises you not to be surprised by the lack of quality websites for farmers yet. Farmers are busy preparing crops for their customers. The maintenance of websites might not be their area of expertise. Therefore, be gentle with the site if it’s not an instant hit.
We highly suggest visiting the Facebook pages for every CSA. Most of the photos you view can give you an idea of the vibe on farms and the atmosphere that is the culture of the farms and the general atmosphere of the company. Alongside the standard corporate Facebook profile, you can ask whether there is the option of establishing an exclusive Facebook group for CSA users only.
Facebook groups that are private can be highly beneficial. If they are managed well, they can become a space where all group members can communicate with one another and build community, exchange ideas, seek suggestions, and get advice.
Facebook groups can also be an excellent place to conduct some instruction. A few farms also have weekly live broadcasts to show cooking demonstrations or take the boxes out of the storage and assist you in identifying the vegetables—tips for storage as well as the most basic uses for every vegetable.
Keep in mind that the people you meet will become “your tribe.” How your tribe is groomed and supported might matter more than you imagine and can result in a better user experience.
Therefore, every CSA has its strengths. This is difficult to determine since they don’t always mention these features in their product descriptions.
Here are a few additional options you may find when evaluating CSAs.
- Do they provide excellent customer service?
- Do they inform you of what’s coming every week?
- Do they offer farm activities for kids?
- Do they give the option of holding your share or changing when you’re out of town?
- What happens if you forget your box? Are they able to save your box?
- Do they have affiliate partnerships with other reputable local vendors?
- Do they require a commitment of some kind?
- Are they required to volunteer for a certain number of hours per week?
Go Through Online Reviews
Go and read what people have to say regarding your CSA farms. Find comments from Facebook as well as Google and go through them. Find out whether the CSA offers a testimonials section on their website. You can learn much about what constitutes an “average” customer experience simply by reading reviews.
Find the answers to these types of questions:
- How many reviews exist?
- How does it add value to the customers?
- Is the quality of produce satisfactory?
- What are the main points of pain?
- What else is the public saying concerning the farms?
Check Other Details
Inquiring about the extent of CSA is crucial for several reasons.
How big are they?
Ask your farms how much they retain. The most well-known CSAs typically have the highest number of clients. If the CSA is home to several hundred or more members, you could be confident that it’s a solid CSA.
However, numerous farms deliberately keep their CSA operations smaller (under 50) to offer their customers a personalized experience. This is why you should ask how long they have been running the CSA.
What is their duration as a CSA?
Experience is important. If the CSA is not significant in size yet has been around for some time and has decided to remain small for some reason.
If it’s the first or second year, this could be the reason for their tiny size since establishing an audience can take a while. There will be a lot of interactions with your farmer, which is great. However, you may be afflicted with discomfort as your farmer learns to be a good farmer.
Remember that big CSAs may feel personal to the person buying from them. You might be required to work harder to get to know the farm. In reality, this is because a farmer can’t connect with 1000 people in a meaningful way. They will probably have the support of a staff of employees who will serve as their ambassadors.
You will lose some “personal connection” in these more extensive CSAs. But a big CSA will also have many products to draw from, so you will get a large assortment of vegetables in your weekly box.
What is their customer retention rate?
CSAs retention percentage is an important figure that can tell you about the overall health of CSA. The average of the industry is approximately 50 percent.
If an agricultural enterprise has a high retention rate, that’s an indication that you are likely to have an enjoyable experience. This means that the farmers you choose to work with provide excellent customer service, offer high-quality products, and assist their customers in their quest to eat more local foods.
Anything over 70% can be considered an impressive number. If you see an impressive retention rate, you should jump on board. This is a good indicator.
We hope this article is a road map to guide you through the choice.
AGRIKULTURE TODAY recommends keeping in mind that not all questions are equal for everyone. These are only the essential questions to think about. You have to determine which one is more important than the other.
Are you simply looking for the finest vegetables of all? Do you want to establish a connection with your farmer? Is the location for pick up more important than the cost? Are the presence online or support value for the expense? Do you want to benefit from the additional options?
Take note of the bigger image. Not all CSAs are made to be the same. Each one of us has a special move. So do your research. Be aware of the risks. The most important thing to having an excellent CSA experience is to ensure you can manage your expectations.
Have a great time.