Updated: Apr 3, 2020
CSA stands for “Community Supported Agriculture,” and is a way for customers who believe in local, healthy food to support a farmer.
But it’s not the only way.
What’s the difference between supporting a farmer through a CSA versus a farmers’ market?
Why would someone consider signing up for a CSA?
These are great questions. And everyone who considers joining a CSA should be asking them.
The CSA customers who come back year after year are a “certain kind” of customer. Not a “better customer” — just the kind of customer that matches the unique format of a CSA model.
It’s best to go into the decision with your eyes wide open, and see if your expectations match the experience that a CSA will give you.
The reality is that CSA is not a good fit for everyone, and you shouldn’t feel bad if it’s not a match for you.
To help you decide if CSA is right for you and before you sign up for this seasonal commitment to a specific farmer, ask yourself these 6 questions….
1). Is the relationship to the actual farmer important to you? (Do you want to support a farmer?)
Effective CSAs focus on the farmer-customer relationship as much as the product.
CSA members want to be able shake the hand that feeds them.
There’s something rewarding about knowing you are doing your part to support a local farmer.
CSA is a mechanism you can put into your weekly routine that allows you to access great-tasting food, knowing there’s a real farm family’s livelihood depending on it.
Being a CSA Member means that you are committed to staying with a specific farmer through an entire season, come thick or thin.
Inherent in this arrangement is the understanding that there is a risk. Mother Nature may send too much sun or rain, bugs or disease, and a certain crop or crops may not appear in your share that summer.
On the flip side, there may be a bumper crop of tomatoes or cucumbers, or you’ll be swimming in peppers.
CSA Members live with and embrace this reality every day.
Their motivation for supporting the farm is just as much about supporting the farmer as it is about getting the full financial value of their share.
But this relationship goes both ways.
When you join a CSA, your farmer will make an attempt to cultivate a connection with you too.
· They learn your names and work hard to make the “big CSA” feel like a small family.
· They might plan events to get you engaging with the farm.
· They try to add value to your life, by teaching you about their food’s story, or how to prepare it.
· They do things to help you succeed at eating their food.
This doesn’t mean you have to take advantage of these connection points. But when you do, your CSA experience becomes richer for both you and the farmer.
This relationship experience is part of what you are paying for in with the CSA model.
2). Do you value having quality vegetable ingredients that actually taste good?
Taste matters for foodies. Because you know that putting together a terrific meal in your kitchen isn’t just about your skill. It starts with the ingredients.
Another important quality of people who choose a CSA, is that they love food. Real food.
Food that tastes like it should, because it’s grown in quality soil.
If you really love cooking and you really value taste, then you will LOVE being in a CSA. Because CSA's are all about providing high-quality vegetables that make your home dining experience feel like an event.
You’re paying for that taste experience when you join a CSA.
If you’re just looking for basic celery and carrot at the cheapest price so you can make an iceberg salad — CSA is not your gig - and that's ok!
3). Are you willing to try new foods? (Really?)
CSA's will push you to try new foods and explore variety in your kitchen.
This means you will discover new veggies you love, and you’ll discover new veggies you hate.
Part of the CSA experience means getting exposed to a wide variety of vegetables. We make sure that there are veggies available in your share that you may have never seen before, and we teach you how to eat them.
It’s all part of the great goal in CSA of developing food diversity and teaching our communities (and our kids) how to eat seasonally again. If you want to grow in the kitchen, you have to push yourself to try new ingredients.
4). Do you need control in your menu planning?
Remember the saying: “You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit?”
CSA Members have to learn to be flexible with their menu and make things work in the kitchen, because you don’t know what you will get in your box until a few days before the pick up.
Some people love this spontaneity. Others will be stressed by it.
Think hard on this:
Are you willing to give up some control over what goes in your box? Or do you need to live by your plan?
If you’re someone that wants to have spinach lasagna on Wednesday, and your box doesn’t have spinach that week, will you be upset that you have to go elsewhere to supplement your CSA box contents?
If so, then you may be better off buying from the grocery store or farmer’s market.
CSA works best for customers who see their kitchen as a creative space, and our vegetables as the “paint” for their canvas. They can handle the spontaneity required and are willing to experiment with new ingredients to make old meal templates come alive in new ways.
At Robinette, we use software to get Members more of what they know they like and less of what they know they won’t use, but creativity in the kitchen is a must.
5). Are you willing to work at eating the CSA way?
CSA takes time to see results. We have customers that have been with us for over 5 years, and they all say it took about 2-3 years before they learned how to consistently use the weekly share's full contents.
That means you will waste some food on the front end, as you go through your learning curve.
Come into this experience with an adventurous spirit, and go easy on yourself if you fail to eat the entire box every week at first. It’s really hard to do, especially as a rookie to the system.
There will be many weeks when you have best intentions to be a super-chef and maximize your CSA tasting experience… and then real life sets in, and you find yourself simply eating the broccoli raw with ranch dip.
It can sometimes feel like you’re “failing” in your original goal to change the way you eat.
Realize that if this is your goal, it takes time to learn the skill sets. (Don’t worry, we’ll teach them to you). Set realistic goals the first year, and work your way into it.
Also realize that in this journey to kitchen mastery, you’re going to waste some food, especially in the first learning year.
Either you don’t get home to make dinner in time because your life is hectic (so the veggies rot)…
…or you end up eating take-out several times a week because you’re playing chauffeur to your 3 kids (so the veggies rot).
If you are committed to learning how, you can do it! But it may take a few seasons before you feel like you’ve got it down.
Do you have the staying power to “work” at CSA?
6). Are you looking for a “deal”? Are you comparing CSA prices to the grocery store?
People who fully embrace the CSA model don’t look for their membership to be a “deal” or a bargain.
And they don’t compare the full CSA experience to the grocery store price.
It is absolutely understandable to ask, “How much does it cost?” And to then weigh the pros and cons.
Supporting a CSA financially is not just about doing a cost analysis of each vegetable you receive in your box and comparing it to what you’d pay at Hy-Vee or Costco.
Our vegetables have added value because every one of our vegetables is telling a story.
Not just the story of how the food was raised, how it was harvested, or what struggles it faced to come to your plate.
Not just the story of the farmer and how you help them live out their calling to the land.
Every vegetable is also telling YOUR unfolding story.
Our vegetables are the starring attraction in your quest to master your kitchen space and prepare a delicious meal to rival any restaurant fare — a meal you can be proud of.
This is not something any grocery store can give you.
CSA customers appreciate this added value of our product, and are willing to pay a premium for it.
So if you’re saying to yourself… “Well that’s more than we’d pay at Super Saver” … you may want to hit the pause button on CSA...and that's ok!
How’d you do?
Did you pass the CSA quiz?
Remember, CSA is just one model out there for getting fresh farmer food onto your table. For those who value the story, the journey, and the farmer relationship behind the food, it can be a great option that can change the way you eat forever.
But there’s no shame in passing on CSA and instead buying weekly from a farmers’ market. And that may in fact be a better fit to your style or needs.
We do both CSA and Farmers' Market, so we just want you to find the right fit!
As in all things, expectations determine how you experience the product. To set you up for CSA success, make sure your expectations align with the philosophy of CSA before you commit.
If you think you’re ready to join the Robinette CSA, here is your next step: