Types of CSAs: More than Just Veggies

Many people have heard about CSAs, or community supported agriculture. One of the biggest hesitations about joining a CSA program is the idea of a “fixed” menu of foods that you get each week — even if they are things you don’t like. But, did you know that there are several types of CSAs? The variety includes everything from the types of food in the CSA to how hands on you’d like to get with your produce. CSAs can also help support charitable efforts or economic development projects. Thus, you weekly spend on healthy foods has an even greater benefit for all. Here’s some of the options available.

CSAs are not just for vegetables

If headlines about pink slime and factory farms have you concerned, there are Meat CSAs that offer a weekly selection of pastured, humanely-raised meats and eggs. Some CSAs also offer small-scale grain and breads, preserves and pickles, and even fresh flowers, and quite often fruits like berries and apples.

Mix and match and Market Share CSAs

Some CSAs offer choices on your weekly share, giving you some flexibility if you get tired of zucchini at the end of summer, or just really love tomatoes. These CSAs let you “customize” your share to help insure that you get the most from your weekly box. A variation of this, called a Market Share, lets you pre-purchase a set amount of produce “market bucks” that you can redeem at the farmers market, choosing which items you want to buy with your “bucks.”

Share the work, share the produce

Workshares are a type of CSA where you exchange labor for a week’s share of produce. Other options include CSA programs where you agree to volunteer at the farm for a few hours in the season as part of your subscription. Rather than balk at getting your hands dirty, realize this is a great opportunity to really see how your food is grown, and even learn how to grow a few things yourself! U-pick CSAs are also becoming more common. In this model, you pay for access to the farm to pick a fixed amount of vegetables and fruits for a week.

Winter CSAs are more widely available

Using high and low tunnels as well as cold-weather greenhouses, a lot of farms have been able to extend their growing seasons by a couple months or even begin to offer winter shares. Nothing tastes quite as good as fresh microgreens in mid-January!

CSAs that benefit food justice and food access initiatives

One of the great things about the CSA model is how it can be used to support healthy food initiatives like this social services CSA program in Philadelphia. With just land, seeds, a few tools and willing hands, fresh food can reach those who can afford it least and have little access to it otherwise. New Roots for Refugees is another innovative CSA program where the shares purchased help fund economic opportunities for refugees, offering them a chance for a sustainable, independent business. Many CSA programs also accept food stamps or have a sliding scale of fees to help individuals afford good food.

Interested in finding out more about CSAs in your area? LocalHarvest.org has a great listing of many CSAs available across the nation. Or, check if your city has its own “Food Circle” organization similar to this one, which is a great resource for finding local farms and foods in your area.

This next post in this Spring CSA series will cover how to know if a CSA is right for you.


Beth Bader is the author of The Cleaner Plate Club: Over 100 Recipes for Real Food Your Kids Will Love. You can find her recipes and food musings at her blog Ex-expatriates Kitchen.