Community-supported agriculture (CSA) allows you to take home some of your local farm's harvest. It's more than driving to a farmers' market and buying produce, though. When joining a CSA, you are actually buying a share of the farm, according to the Tennessee Department of Agriculture — which maintains a searchable CSA database called Pick Tennessee Products.
Here are five things to keep in mind before you sign on the dotted line with your local CSA.
1. You're Paying to Support the Farm Year-Round
When you join a CSA, you pay for your share throughout the Tennessee growing season, which can vary throughout the state. Typically, a share of a spring-summer Tennessee CSA spans about 25 weeks from May to November, and often you invest before many crops are even planted. This helps to support a local farm that would otherwise have to layout this money beforehand.
According to LocalHarvest, there is an aspect of shared risk in joining a CSA, because members usually pay up-front for the season. Farmers do their best to provide a bountiful box of produce every week, but if the harvest is lean, members are not typically reimbursed. If the chance of not "getting your money's worth" makes you uneasy, you can still support your local agriculture at your favorite farmers' market.
2. Each Farm Has Local Drop-Off Points or Farm Hours
Definitely choose a CSA that is close to home, so picking up your weekly share is as convenient for you as a trip to the grocery store. The amount you pay is the same every week or month (or you can pay the whole fee up-front) during the time period or growing season outlined by the CSA you've chosen. You can also opt for a full share, a half share or a double share, depending on your family's needs and budget.
3. You Should Be Open to Trying New Foods and Recipes
Don't know what to do with beets or bok choy? You will learn! Because most CSAs grow a wide variety of fruits and vegetables — and many offer meats and farm-fresh eggs as well — you may find yourself looking at items you've never tried before. Consider taking the time to pursue new recipes and taste new foods. If you're an adventurous foodie, you are a perfect candidate for a CSA. If not, keep in mind you can't return the box and ask for a refund. Your agreement with the farm commits you to paying for a share of whatever the harvest is every week. For those who feel anxious over this lack of choice, some CSAs also offer options in the weekly box.
4. Expect to Expand Your Knowledge of Healthy Eating
If your goal is to eat right, an automatic weekly share of new fruits and vegetables from a local farm is a perfect way to always have fresh, healthier foods on-hand for snacking and cooking meals. The Tennessee Department of Agriculture suggests that because you are constantly exposed to new and fresh foods, you're more likely to eat them.
5. You Might Be Able to Buy Many Other Local Food Products This Way
If you're interested in thinking globally but acting locally, you should want to explore how many different types of products you can buy through this initiative. Some community-supported agriculture programs may pool their products and services so you can buy oils, honey, soaps, eggs, meats, jams and jellies, condiments, cheeses, canning specialties and more, in addition to fresh produce.
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