I just read a very interesting article in the Chicago Tribune this morning. “Confessions of a Community Supported Agriculture Failure”, written by Barbara Brotman, relates the trials and tribulations of a CSA member this summer. I do not know which farm’s CSA program she joined – I guess it doesn’t really matter – but, as a farmer, this article was a must-read.
In the article, she writes of the many challenges she faced being a part of a CSA membership. There were a few reasons that it did not work out for her. Too much food, Barbara writes, is one reason the CSA didn’t work. In addition, she talks about not knowing what to do with some crops, about her husband not eating his greens, and the fact that she has to cook things. By the end of summer, she had figured out that the CSA did not work out for her.
I get it.
CSA programs are not for everyone. It can certainly be lots of food, some of the produce is not familiar (does everybody pick on kohlrabi?), and you definitely have to cook or, at the very least, wash and chop. If you’re not ready, it can become overwhelming quickly.
And that right there – not being ready – is a problem for me. And it kinda sticks in my craw real bad. What were you thinking, Barbara? When you signed up for a service that brings you vegetables every week, did you not think that you were going to get vegetables every week?
Community Supported Agriculture programs are not just a way to buy vegetables.
It’s much more than that.
Joining a CSA is, in my opinion, the best way to support a farm because you invest in the farm. Farmers receive a predictable and reliable income. Families learn about their farm and their farmer and discover what it means to grow food. But CSAs are not for everyone. Fortunately, there are caterers and grocers and restaurants and farmers markets too (although in my experience there is ALOT of greenwashing at all of these so be a savvy shopper and ask questions!).
A CSA is also about supporting local business, it’s about buying fresh produce, and it’s about eating better. If you support an organic farm, it’s about protecting the land and its resources. It’s about preserving heirloom varieties. It’s about protecting labor rights and birds and bees.
And it is a commitment to all of those things. I do have expectations that our CSA customers are ready for the season. I think it is reasonable to expect that CSA families have a cookbook ready (or two or three or possibly this new fangled thing called the Internet or even a library card). CSA families should be open to trying new foods (not all of which, by the way, are you or I going to like and THAT IS OK). Mostly, I want CSA members to be prepared for the season and to learn about their farm and to understand that eating better requires work and effort. You are not going to become a healthy eater because you buy healthy foods. You will only become a healthy eater if you eat healthy foods. Changing the food system and changing your diet are going to require work. The best things in life always do.
I do not expect every CSA customer to be a CSA success. Sometimes it’s just not a good fit. You thought you could do it, you honestly tried, but it didn’t work out. Sure, of course that is going to happen. Sometimes, certainly, the farm isn’t doing a good job and you receive poor quality or poor variety. Sometimes, the farm does not let you know what’s going on or does send too much kale. Sometimes, the weather takes the best laid plans and foils them. As I said, a CSA does not always work for everyone.
But I do expect to folks to be thoughtful and prepared and willing to give it an honest and full effort. I don’t think that’s too much to ask