all about our new csa

Posted on Jan 9, 2013 in Food

Alright, I’ve been teasing for a while now a post detailing all the awesomeness that is our new CSA. I finally managed to snap some photos of all of our goodies this week, and I’m ready to share all about this new fun thing we’re part of. I have a lot to say about our new CSA (and CSAs in general), so bear with me!

bok choy

A CS-whosie-whatsie?

If you aren’t familiar with CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) the deal is that you purchase a “share” of a farmer’s harvest for the season. So at the beginning of the season, you write a check (most places do one lump sum, some do installments) to the farmer. The farmer then takes that influx of cash to run his or her farm. In exchange for that cash, you get a weekly or bi-weekly box of the products coming out of the farm at the time. It’s pretty awesome for all parties involved. The farmer gets income when they need it the most—at the beginning of the season. And the consumer gets the freshest, most local produce delivered directly from the farmer at a regular intervals.

There are CSAs available for pretty much anything and everything that is produced in your area. Around here, we have produce CSAs, cheese CSAs, beef CSAs, chicken CSAs, goat CSAs, fresh flower CSAs, bread CSAs…I could keep going. But basically, the CSA model has totally exploded in the last few years. Don’t think you have any CSAs in your area? I bet you do. You can check out Local Harvest to find one near you.

Anywho. That’s the traditional CSA model. And we’ve been a member of a number of traditional CSAs and loved every second of it. It was always a blast to pick up our CSA box on Friday and find out what goodies were producing well on the farm that week. And getting the freshest and most local produce possible was always an incredible perk. The quality was top-notch and, compared to local and organic goods in the regular grocery store, the price was a steal.

tomatoes

Well, that all sounds good, but…

CSAs aren’t for everyone. First of all, you have absolutely no control over what shows up in your box each week. For a picky eater, that’s probably difficult. If everyone in your family hates celery, and it happens to be an awesome year for celery and you end up getting three pounds of celery in your box every week for a month? Not good.

One other issue of the CSA is that you are locked in. You sign up for anywhere from 20-35 weeks of the year in this area, and once they’ve cashed that check, you are in. There is no getting your money back if you change your mind, it’s a bad growing season or you decide to change your diet.

Neither of those “problems” were issues for us, but my biggest issue with past CSAs is that they aren’t year-around in our area (and most areas). We wanted more! Our CSAs in the past went from mid-April to late-October, leaving us to traverse the grocery store produce shelves during the remaining five months of the year. It’s understandable. For a single small farm (or even mid-sized farm) it’s a challenge to produce enough product to fill up CSAs during the summer, let alone figure out what to put in a box in mid-January.

And this is where our new CSA differs from the traditional model.

butternut squash

How our CSA is different…

It didn’t even occur to us to look for a CSA when we moved because we were past the deadline to sign up for most CSAs and figured by next year, we’ll be producing our own produce from our garden. We figured our CSA days were done. But then, we were having dinner with my brother and sister-in-law and they told us about their CSA. It was year-round! And included a lot more than just veggies. We were intrigued and went home and joined almost immediately!

Technically, our CSA is actually not a CSA at all, but a subscription service with a produce “middle man”. We actually have our contract with a company called Grasshoppers Distribution. Grasshoppers partners with over 70 local farmers and producers to provide them with product for their subscribers (me!), and then Grasshoppers does all the distribution, marketing and customer service. Leaving the farmers to do what they do best—farm.

Because Grasshoppers works with so many farms, it means that there is something available weekly for delivery all year. Maybe there is one small-scale farmer that loves growing acorn squash and has a ton in storage this winter. You can’t really start a CSA just with acorn squash, but they can sell that squash to Grasshoppers and they can put it in a box along with celery from another farmer, turnips from another and greenhouse tomatoes from yet another. The best part? Grasshoppers pays the farmers 300% the national average. Fair wage is awesome.

cucumbers

What our weekly box looks like…

What I love the most about Grasshoppers is that it is a CSA and grocery delivery service all in one (and all local and organic). We set up our weekly subscription base order of foods that we’ll eat every week. They are :

  • small produce CSA—we get a box of whatever is producing at the time
  • breakfast meat CSA—we get one or two packages of whatever breakfast meat is available
  • chicken CSA—we get one or two packages of whatever chicken is available
  • fresh pasta CSA—we get one or two packages of fresh pasta
  • 1/2 gallon of skim milk—for drinking
  • 1/2 gallon of whole milk—for making cheese or yogurt
  • 1 quart of half and half
  • 1 dozen eggs
  • 1 brick of butter

The produce haul each week is really impressive, and actually much larger than I had with any other CSA I’ve had in the past. For example, this week in our produce box, we got:

  • Salad cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Celery
  • Lettuce
  • Spinach

csa produce

 

And that’s in the dead of winter! It’s so great to have fresh, local produce even when there is snow on the ground. And as for our other items we got:

  • Breakfast sausage
  • Black bean ravioli
  • Whole chicken
  • Skim and whole milk
  • Half and Half
  • Eggs
  • Butter

csa

That right there pretty much covers our weekly grocery necessities. But the really awesome part about Grasshoppers is that, every Saturday, I can go online and see what the local farms have available for the next week’s delivery and add-on—this is the grocery delivery part. Say I really want to make something with spinach, I can add a bundle on. Or if I need an extra dozen eggs—add it on. They also have a whole bunch of local products you can add-on, too. You can add-on full cakes from a local bakery. Loaves of French bread baked that morning. Goat cheese. Cow’s cheese. Gallons of maple syrup. Almost anything you can think of! It’s dangerous for my checking account.

This week, we added on flour, oyster mushrooms, festival squash, iced tea and pear cider vinegar. All local. All from small, organic farmers and producers that otherwise probably wouldn’t come close to reaching this big of a market.

csa extras

By the time our CSA order is done each week, we pretty much don’t need to go near a grocery store. The only thing we’ve really been missing is fruit, and right now, a five-pound crate of clementines seems to work for us just fine. You might be thinking that this has to be obnoxiously expensive—I would, too—but it’s actually incredibly economical. We pay anywhere between $80-$110 a week (depending on how many add-ons we tack on). We’re actually spending less on our grocery bills than we did pre-CSA for arguably better quality food.

potatoes

Speaking of payment, that’s something else that is very cool about this model—it’s no commitment. Grasshoppers Distribution is actually the one making the financial commitment to the farmers, which means that us subscribers are free to switch, change and adjust our subscriptions from week to week. For example, come June, we aren’t going to need a produce box thanks to our garden. Once our garden starts producing, all I have to do is go online and drop the produce portion of my subscription. And if I want, I can add it back on again in the winter. Did I mention that all this account management and payment is done online? It’s awesome. Way awesome.

The system has also helped us cut out almost all of our convenience foods. No more little tubs of individual serving yogurt. No more granola bars. No more boxes of crackers. It means that we have to spend a little more time prepping in the kitchen each week making bread, yogurt, granola and other convenience foods. But it also means we’re eating healthier, being better stewards of the environment and saving cash.

granola

Obviously, we are thrilled with our new CSA! I am so happy that so much of the food that is coming into our house each week is locally grown and produced. And I feel good that we are supporting small farmers in this area and a company that values high-quality, sustainable food. Yay! I wish everyone was fortunate enough to have this amazing of a program in their area. And if you live in the Kentuckiana area? I highly recommend Grasshoppers Distribution. They have pick up spots all over Louisville and Southern Indiana. Go for it!

Have you ever been a member of a CSA? How’d you like it? Did you try out any new fruits or veggies because they were in your CSA box?

P.S. I just realized this sounds like Grasshoppers paid me to write a review. They didn’t. I just really like them. A lot. Lots a lot.

21 Comments

  1. Wow, your “CSA” sounds amazing! My boyfriend and I have waffled back and forth about joining one here in TX, but I’m always afraid I’ll end up with a bunch of veggies whose names I don’t even know and have no idea how to cook with them!

    But given that we’re making a great effort to move back to Kentucky (where I’m from originally) in the next 6 months, if we do I’ll definitely be signing up with this company!

  2. Ok, I am suuuuuper jealous of this CSA arrangement that you have! This sounds absolutely incredible. I’ll look around, but I’m pretty sure there is nothing run nearly as well as this where I am :(

  3. This sounds incredible! I will spending my lunch looking for a CSA near me. :)

  4. I’ve been a produce CSA member for a couple of years and will probably do it again this year. I have to say, being a member of a CSA really blossomed my cooking and creativity abilities in the kitchen and expanded my tasting/trying horizons! The first year, I was a little overwhelmed with what we were getting, but thanks to this handy little thing called the internet I was able to figure out how to use most of it. Our produce bill during CSA time is virtually non-existent, SCORE! And you really can’t beat the price when you break it down.

    The only down sides I found are getting things we really do not like to eat, or eat very little of and always seem to get a ton of, like cabbage. Blech. I tried, I really did. I tried to find things to put it in, but one cabbage dish seems to be the same as the next to me. I’ve thought about doing a fruit CSA, but the ones in our area provide too much for two people to eat on a weekly basis. I think we’d end up tossing more than we’d eat (not very economical), or having to give it away. Not that I don’t like to give things away, but I don’t want to be playing Ding Dong Ditch – Fruit Edition with my neighbors on a regular basis, or slugging the rest to work (I take the bus) for my coworkers.

    Your CSA looks pretty awesome, especially because you can add on meat and dairy! I think I may poke around in my area to see if I can find something like this.

  5. WOW! Amazing! We have Fruit My Cube at my work… its mainly fresh fruit… or you can get a crate with fresh veggies. I have done it a few times and LOVED it.

  6. I am so jealous! Our closest CSA-we live in the middle of nowhere in central IL-is a half hour drive to go pick up. Also, the year we joined was a bad growing year and we got almost nothing in it. There were very few usable items in it each week and not once would our haul have even fit in a shoe box. An hour long round trip drive is hard to justify. Farmer’s Markets and our own garden are our only options! On a related note, I just posted a recipe for Baked Garlic Brown Rice which would go awesome with all your veggies! Have fun!
    P.S. The sprouts are beautiful. What are you doing with them?http://www.brittanyspantry.blogspot.com/2013/01/baked-garlic-brown-rice.html

  7. I looooove my CSA! It’s the best thing that’s happened to me since I discovered I like vegetables. Yours sounds incredible, though! I wish I could get dairy and eggs in addition to the fabulous vegetables and fruit I get each week.
    I have tried tons of new veggies thanks to my box from Mariquita Farm. Broccoli di Cicco (and heirloom broccoli variety) has been a highlight lately.

  8. Wow! Your CSA/distribution group sounds truly amazing and almost revolutionary. What a find!

    I have no experience with CSA-anything. So far. But I used your Local Harvest link to look up the area where we’ll be moving to later this year, and found several promising-sounding farms. Can’t wait to look into buying a CSA share once we get settled!

    Thanks as always for sharing (-:

  9. Super great post. I’ve done Bountiful Baskets which is more of a food co-op and not a CSA. The food isn’t all that local and sometimes the quality is awful so I don’t do it often. I don’t have access to anything like this in the middle of no where, but the perk to middle of no where is a gigantic garden and I can a ton of food to put up for winter. I would love this though to fill in the gaps!

  10. This sounds awesome. I was part of Bountiful Baskets when I lived in Arizona (they are in other states as well) and I loved it! You could choose the weekend you wanted to participate in during the week, and you got 50% fruit and 50% veggies. I like that your CSA is locally grown, though. That really helps out those small farms. How much would you need to produce in your garden to join in?

  11. I’m so jealous! We did a CSA two years ago and got okra, lots of okra (which I hate) and not much else. The weather did a number on the produce that summer so our bag each week was pretty small. Too bad we don’t have something like Grasshoppers in our area.

  12. Cassie,

    I love your website and learn about so many things. No, I have never heard of a CSA, but apparently there are some nearby. I will have to check one out…Thanks for providing lots of fun ideas and enjoyable reading!!! Jenn

  13. I live in Chicago and get all my groceries from something very similar–Irv and Shelly’s FreshPicks at freshpicks.com. I have been using them for years and spread the good word to everyone I know. I really love it! It’s good for picky eaters too, because you can fully pick and choose what groceries you want, or get the CSA-style box. Glad to hear you found something similar!

  14. Thank you, thank you for posting this! I went to Local Harvest and found a year round CSA that has a pick up location not 2 miles from my house!!! I can’t wait to start!

  15. This is so much like the group I joined a few months ago! Mine is Local Fare Farm Bag, based here in Florida. It’s life-changing. We’re only signed up for a produce bag bi-weekly, but it includes a fresh loaf of bread, a baggie of organic herbs, and is delivered to our house. They offer seafood, eggs, cheese, and many other things– I should really try it out.

    Actually, you’re the reason why I looked into CSAs at all–thanks for the inspiration!

    • Oh gosh, seafood would be AMAZING. Damn Indiana for being landlocked!

  16. Your CSA sounds amazing. I plan on joining a CSA for the first time this year. I am looking forward to getting local produce and trying new things and hopefully a smaller grocery bill!

  17. We belonged to an organic produce CSA for a few years. I really liked the idea of it, and that everything was organic. The downside is that we live in a very rural area and the pickup was back in the university town we work in, but on Saturdays, which meant more gas, time and trouble to get it picked up. The other downside is that because we live in a rural area, we have access to the farmer themselves through farm stands so we can just stop at one of about five or six different places on our way home without going out of our way.

    That said, I loved knowing first hand what kind of a year the farmer was having through the produce we received. It was a really good year for beets one year (I haven’t eaten one since), and kale another. I also loved eating with the seasons. We do that with the farm stands as well. We eat enough strawberries and asparagus in the spring to get our fill until the next spring.

    I would love to be able to get one like yours where you can mix it up and unsubscribe during the peak local farm times. I’m so happy for you to have that service available.

  18. This sounds absolutely perfect. I’ve been wanting to try a CSA but I guess I’m a little nervous to pull the trigger by giving up the lump sum of money ahead of time. I’ll need to research around Milwaukee to see what they offer here!

  19. Wow! This is so, so cool! I definitely want to start doing a CSA eventually, I just don’t know if I’m ready for the commitment yet. Dropping that amount of cash all at once is probably more than I could handle right now. I love that your new CSA does all sorts of stuff, not just fruits and veggies. And that you get it even in the Winter! There isn’t a whole lot of farming going on in RI (rocky soil), but there are a few good-looking CSAs I found from that website you linked to. But there’s nothing like yours!

  20. My ‘csa’ is exactly like that! It’s a coop, really, and we’re all owner/members. They have seasonal pick boxes if you choose, but most people just tack on whatever they want! I always get tons of greens, eggs, and usually citrus since it’s Florida and our season is year round :-) they have a brick and mortar store a couple blocks from my house which is awesome because any of their excess goes there and I can grab some herbs or sauces if I forgot to add them to my order. Love it!

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