Joining a CSA is a big commitment and taking a few minutes now will help you make the best decision for you & your family.
(Remember: We do CSA and Farmers Market both, so if CSA isn’t the right fit for you but you still want to be a part of Iron & Elder Farm’s journey, you can support our farm by frequenting the Farmer’s Market. And if CSA feels like a good fit for you, we will be totally thrilled to welcome you to the CSA family!)
7 QUESTIONS YOU SHOULD ASK BEFORE YOU JOIN A CSA…
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. You never know what kind of crazy weather or natural phenomena we’ll get. We could get 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 FRESH, QUALITY INGREDIENTS?
Sad, tasteless grocery store tomatoes in winter. (Blah!) Tiny kale bunches that turn to slime in your fridge within a couple of days. (Yuck!)
Taste matters to you! You know that a delicious meal starts with quality ingredients.
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.
Our veggies taste different than what you’d get at the grocery store. That’s because we pay attention to building quality soil, that is rich in organic matter and bio-nutrients. You’ll also notice a difference in freshness with a CSA. Because you get it within hours of harvest, your product will taste better and last longer.
CSAs are all about providing high-quality, fresh vegetables that make your home dining experience feel like a special event every night. So if you’re just looking for some basic lettuce and carrots at the cheapest price so you can make an iceberg salad tonight...this 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 and 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 some 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.
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 Walmart or Kroger.
Our CSA shares are priced at (about) the value that we would charge at the farmers market, but you get so much more than our farmers market customers. In return for investing in our farm, we give you 10-15% more veggie value than you pay for, plus each CSA member will receive recipes, the freshest produce from our fields, and access to produce that doesn’t make it to the market.
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.
7. ARE YOU GOING TO BE OUT OF TOWN?
This is the practical question that weeds out a lot of people.
We ask our members to make a weekly commitment. If you have to miss your box pickup due to a vacation, you can donate it to a food bank OR you can gift it to a friend who comes in your place.
In our CSA, we ask you to think about your commitment before you sign up. Will you be gone a lot this summer? Is your chosen pickup site time convenient? Or is your life too busy to fit this in right now?
CSA is designed for people who know they can make that weekly commitment.
SO, WHAT DO YOU THINK?
ARE YOU READY TO SIGN UP FOR A CSA OR DO YOU THINK YOU SHOULD PASS?
Remember, CSA is just one model out there for getting fresh farm food onto your table.
For those who value the story, the journey, and the farmer relationship behind the food, it can be a great option that can change the way you eat forever.
But there’s no shame in passing on CSA and instead buying weekly from an online farm store or farmer’s market. And that may in fact be a better fit to your style or needs.
As in all things, expectations determine how you experience the product. To set you up for CSA success, make sure your expectations align with the philosophy of CSA before you commit.