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!
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.
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.
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.
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
- Sweet Potatoes
- Brussels sprouts
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
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.
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.
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.
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.