’CSA’ is a acronym for Community Supported Agriculture. (So to say that you’re in a CSA or run a CSA is grammatically incorrect. You can be a member of a Community Supported Agriculture program, but you can’t be a member of a Community Supported Agriculture. I digress.) Community Supported Agriculture is an idea originally brought to the U.S. in the 1980′s, with the purpose of creating local food systems. For more on the history and it’s many forms, read the ATTRA publication. Technically, Community Supported Agriculture can come in the form of farmers’ markets, roadside stands, Earth Fare, farm shares, etc. On our farm, we offer vegetable and meat shares, which follow a seasonal production calendar. Community Supported Agriculture is not synonomous with sustainable, organic, or humane production practices. A consumer should always do their homework, taking nothing for granted.
We’ve recently opened sign-ups for the spring/summer meat share, which has prompted a few questions from our customers. I’m going to attempt to answer some of those questions here, in hopes of clearing things up for this go round and in the future. I want to address some common questions about our Community Supported Agriculture shares that I’ve picked up on in my experience.
When are shares available?
We give a in-depth explanation of the programs during each sign-up and on the CSA page of our website, so I won’t be too detailed. But generally, our meat share is offered from March – June and July – October. Vegetable shares are offered April – July and September – November. Our vegetable shares are a little less predictable, as they are more susceptible to extreme weather fluctuations. The season sometimes ends a week or two early, or has to start a week or two behind. There’s just no way to predict that from year to year, or even month to month.
How are the shares picked up?
Pick up dates are specified on the sign-up email we send out at the beginning of each season. Vegetable shares are picked up once a week, while meat shares are picked up once a month. Both shares offer two dates for each pick up that customers can choose from. Vegetable shares do offer an in-town pick up option, while meat shares must be picked up on-farm.
What happens if someone misses a pick-up?
If you don’t pick up your share on the specified dates or make alternate arrangements, you forfeit your share. We don’t offer refunds for forfeited shares. Our thought is that you start the season off knowing when the date of each pick-up, so you have plenty of time to put it on your calendar. And if you’ve already paid for the food, why would you not come pick it up? We harvest vegetables before each pick up, and they do not keep for long, so it’s important that you get them on time. Each pick-up requires us to set aside an entire day harvesting, dividing, printing recipes, and waiting on customers. For vegetable shares, that means we set aside two whole days of our week specifically for handing out shares (not counting the rest of the week, which is also directly devoted to getting those shares ready). We ask our shareholders to set aside about 30 minutes to pick those shares up.
How much is in a share?
Meat shares divide pretty evenly, as we can determine the exact number of animals to be harvested for the season. The exact distribution changes year to year, and the updated list can be found on our CSA page. That’s a total amount, so you’ll get that amount divided over four months. No, you will not receive 4 chickens, 2 rabbits, 16 lbs of ground meat, and 12 lbs of prime cuts every month. One month’s pick-up might look like this: 1 whole chicken, 1 package patty pork sausage, 2 packages ground beef, 4 steaks. Per suggestion of our shareholders, we’re going to try harder to provide a meal’s worth of prime cuts in a month, instead of sticking to 3 lbs/month. That means some months you might receive 4 – 5 lbs, for a total of 16 lbs by the end of the share.
Vegetable shares are a little harder to determine. They roughly provide a family-sized portion of each harvested crop, although as former shareholders can attest, sometimes you might get more squash than you bargained for. We plant a variety of crops suited to our region, and multiple varieties of each of those crops. Staples of the spring/summer include lettuces, tomatoes, eggplants, squash, kohlrabi, cucumbers, melons, herbs, flowers. Staples of the fall/winter include winter squash, lettuces, sweet potatoes, cabbages, collard greens, broccoli, cauliflower. We experiment with different crops every year, so there’s always something different.
How do you determine your cost?
I will venture to say that this is the most frustrating part of what we do. First of all, I should point out that what you pay at our farm is indeed the true cost of food. We aren’t paying for our Cadillacs with your meat shares. At the beginning of the year, we add up our inputs, which include everything from fertilizers and feed to irrigation, transportation, and electricity. When gas and corn increase, we have to increase our prices to cover that cost. The difference between our ground beef prices and Winn-Dixie’s is that you’re paying for it all upfront: minus the corn subsidies, minus the back-room deals with politicians, minus the fillers/additives/hormones/who-knows-whats, and minus the hospital bill at the end of a life of eating worthless junk. Believe me, when you add all that stuff in, you’re paying alot more for the other stuff than you’re paying with us. Then after we’ve covered our cost, we add in a salary for ourselves. Say, 1/4 minimum wage. And that’s what you pay.
How is the cost of a share divided?
For a vegetable share, you get, in theory, about $35 worth of produce each week. In reality, you get about $30 worth at the beginning, $35 worth around week 3, and by week 6 you’re probably getting closer to $45 worth each week. If you purchased the same amount directly from our store front, you’d most likely end up spending more. If you purchased the same product from a grocery store…. well, the truth is, you can’t find locally, sustainably grown products around here. You might find organic products from CA, or conventionally grown products from TN, but you’re not going to find both, not of the entire variety of produce that we offer, and certainly not for the price.
In a meat share, we start at the beginning of the season by setting a share price for chicken, rabbit, ground meats, and prime cuts. In a meat share, you pay $4.50/lb for chicken (same as the store front price), $20/piece for rabbit (rarely available from store front), $9/lb for ground meats (an average of beef, lamb, and sausage retail prices), and $12/lb for prime cuts (an average of lamb and beef retail prices).
The perk of both the vegetable and meat shares is that you are guaranteed the best and hardest to get items we sell, including prime steaks, rabbit, tomatoes, and lettuces. We don’t have enough quantity to sell alot of these things through the store front, but can produce just enough to provide through shares. We also give our shareholders first dibs on farm dinner reservations and other events throughout the year.
What if we get something we don’t know how to cook?
We give out recipes for those harder to use items. We also have a broad selection of recipes on our website.
Can I substitute items in the share?
We have no issue working with folks with food allergies. But part of the point of a farm share is learning how to use the whole harvest, being creative and resourceful in following seasonal production. We encourage shareholders to find new recipes, and share their favorites with the entire community.
Do you have a question about our shares? We’d love to answer it for you.