Next week, we will receive our final CSA share, so I thought this would probably be a good time to put together a full review of our experience this year. But first, here are a few photos of the shares we have received over the past few weeks:
Apples, chives, basil, thyme, cilantro, pumpkin, carrots, garlic, green beans, Asian greens
Winter squash, apples, carrots, garlic, leeks, sweet potatoes, salad greens, Asian greens, fennel
Sweet potatoes, green onions, red carrots, salad greens, mizuna, fennel, eggs
Winter squash, garlic, onions, thyme, kale, lettuce, Swiss chard, chives, carrots, fennel
Winter squash, baby carrots, salad greens, potatoes, onions, garlic, eggs, cabbage, chives, fennel
Cost – This was one of the least expensive CSA programs in the area, which is appealing to people who want to give the idea a try without having to invest too much money upfront. The gas costs to pick up our weekly shares were also minimal, since our pick-up location was less than two miles away.
Variety – One of the most common reasons people dislike CSAs is that they feel like they always get the same kinds of things (mostly greens). This particular farm offered a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, herbs, eggs, and honey which meant we rarely had the opportunity to become bored with anything.
Creativity – Perhaps the biggest perk of having weekly CSA shares this year was that forced us to be more creative with dinners, since we had to find ways to use everything before it went bad. My husband and I actually had a lot of fun coming up with new meal ideas!
Learning Experience – Regardless of how things turned out, participating in a CSA this year was worthwhile because we got to try something we never did before. If we decide to do another CSA next year, we know exactly what to look for and which questions to ask upfront.
Lack of Organization – Perhaps this was unique to our particular site, but I was amazed at how disorganized the distributions were. Not only did they have to put together every share piece by piece from a list, but even then, there were a few weeks where they either left something at the farm (usually the eggs) or missed a couple of items on the list.
Communication – While the farm sent out weekly newsletters with a list of share items and recipes, the list they gave us almost never matched what we actually got. Honestly, what’s the point of sending out a newsletter if the information is never correct?
Quality - One of the big selling points for this CSA was “variety,” but unfortunately, just because you grow a zillion different things doesn’t mean you’re particularly good at all of them. While some of the produce looked and tasted excellent, there were other items that were unacceptable. Specifically, many of the apples (especially the early ones) were tiny, deformed, covered in spots, and nearly impossible to salvage even for applesauce. Additionally, the greens were always half-eaten by bugs – and some still had live bugs/worms in them! Needless to say, we had to inspect and wash every item very thoroughly before use.
Shortened Season – This was the part that really ticked me off. Honestly, I would have let all of the other little things go… but first they started the season late, then they stopped service for 5 weeks, and now they cut the end of the season short. (Note: One of their concessions after the stoppage was to extend the season into mid-December, but they reneged on it with no explanation whatsoever.) So instead of getting 24 shares as per the contract, we only actually received 17 shares of varying sizes.
So what’s the overall verdict? While it was a good learning experience, I wouldn’t recommend this particular CSA. I honestly believe the farmers’ hearts were in the right place, but they oversold the terms/benefits of the program upfront and didn’t seem adequately prepared to support 60+ shareholders under those terms.
That said, my husband and I really enjoy the CSA model and would like to try a different one next year (finances permitting). There are so many other farms with CSA programs in this area, and while most are a bit more expensive, they would almost certainly provide better value than this one did.
Summary: If you want to try a CSA, don’t cheap out. Find a well-established, reputable farm with a history of good service and quality produce… and don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions before giving them your money. Additionally, if you can find a farm that’s close enough to visit on a regular basis, you’ll get more face-to-face contact with the farmers and hopefully feel more invested in their success throughout the season.