Want to learn more about what makes produce organic? See What is Organic Farming, Really?
In order to choose a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program that's perfect for you, there are a number of factors to consider. Are you the type of person who can be flexible about what shows up in your grocery basket each week, or do you need to decide for yourself? How many vegetables does your household realistically use per week? Do you have time to prepare food from scratch? Will your schedule allow you to show up regularly to pick up your food? Above all, you should understand your wants and needs.
See also10 Reasons to Eat Clean.
CSA prices can vary quite a lot and for good reason. A share from Farm A might include vegetables only, while Farm B might offer vegetables along with fruits. Still, some farms might provide proteins like eggs or meat as well, while other farms will mix and match combinations of all of the above. Farms offer different sizes and frequencies of shares as well. Simply comparing base price to base price per farm won’t give you all the information you need without also taking a look at what each one includes.
The farm you are considering might provide you with a pre-selected box of produce, a punch card that you can apply toward whatever you want, or something in between. Some farms need you to participate for the entire season, while others will let you drop in and drop out as your schedule requires. If you're out of town a lot or are planning an extended summer stay at a vacation spot, see if the farm you are considering can be flexible about the length of the season. Some farms will also allow you to switch the location of your pick-up between one place and another.
Degree of Choice
Believe it or not, some members of CSA programs will tell you they enjoy not having to pick out a week's worth of produce for themselves. If the idea of cooking from a fixed set of options sounds like the opposite of "liberating" to you, make sure you find a farm that allows you to choose everything you bring home.
Are you looking for a broader sense of community, or are you just trying to find a clean bag of local food? Some farms are more open than others to public involvement. If being part of a farm community is important to you, ask the farmer if they ever hold events or open houses, and whether they’re available for drop-in visits. Some farms also host things like classes and workshops and hayrides and festivals. Other farms make a point of reaching out to address issues like food access and other social justice concerns.
Pesticides and Herbicides
If you're concerned about eating chemicals, you might be tempted to ask your farmer if they're certified organic or not. Rather than asking ‘Is your food organic?’ or 'Do you spray your crops?‘, it can be better to ask a more specific question. 'Could you list for me the sprays you use on your crops?’ will often get you a serious answer. Most farms do spray something on their food, and it might make a difference to you what that something is. Even some certified organic sprays are nasty stuff. When you get your list home, look up the sprays and see if you’re OK with what they are…or not.
Type of Member Investment
In the past, it was really common for CSA farms to require members to take an active role in the working operations of the farm. Members were expected to do things like weed and harvest and make financial decisions about the farm. It’s far more common today for members to pay a set price in exchange for a set amount of food. Some members never even set foot on "their" farm if they pick up at an off-site location. But for people who are looking to shave off some of the cost of local food, have time to spare, or are just looking for first-hand farming experience, the work-share model can be a great fit.