Birds-eye view of a tractor harvesting crops.

What is Community Supported Agriculture?

By Jennifer Blanck, MiCAFE Network Coordinator at Elder Law of Michigan

What is Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)? Many people have never heard of CSA farms or maybe they have heard of them but have never participated in one. CSA farms, known as CSAs, are a growing opportunity for consumers to buy a “share(s)” of food directly from local farmers in their community. Typical shares consist of a box or grocery bag of veggies each week during the growing season. Depending on the farm, shares may offer fruit, honey, eggs, or even bread as add-ons.

CSAs are beneficial to both the farmer and consumer. According to Local Harvest, CSA farmers get to spend time marketing their goods early in the season before they begin spending long hours in the fields. They receive payment early in the season which can be extremely helpful for a farming family. Farmers also have a chance to meet the people in their community whom their food is serving.

I purchased a CSA share last summer and these are some benefits I experienced as a consumer:

  • My family ate healthier.
  • I tried new foods I would have never purchased in the store.
  • Heirloom crops!
  • I discovered that I love kohlrabi, baby bok choy, and curly kale. I do NOT like arugula.
  • I experimented with new recipes.
  • I got my daughter to try and like new veggies, and she really looked forward to going on pick-up days so she could help choose what we were going to get each week.
  • The food was fresh, never gassed or coated in wax or pesticides!
  • I felt good knowing I was supporting a local farming family and not a big chain corporation.

As with any purchase, there may be some risks to joining a CSA. There are a few things that a potential CSA member should know. You pay up front for the whole season. A typical season is mid-June through October (about 18-20 weeks) and may start out slow or light until more crops are ready to harvest later in the summer. There is also no guarantee on the quantity or quality of the produce, especially if there is a late frost, drought, extreme high temperatures, or other factors that can affect the growing season. Most farmers do not offer money back.

Research local farms before deciding who you would like to participate with. Some farms specialize in certain types of crops or may offer different add-ons like an apple share in the fall, eggs, or honey. Some CSA farmers offer full shares, which is typically one box a week, while others may have different plans that offer a half-share option, which is a box every other week. Prices and payment options may vary from farmer to farmer. There are farmers that accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) as a form of payment, and other farmers may allow (or even request) you to volunteer, working in the fields to help pay for your share.

Purchasing a CSA share is a good option for older adults who would like to eat healthy and support their community. CSAs may also be beneficial to older adults who are no longer able to grow their own produce because of health conditions or having to downsize their homes. This would allow them to still have that fresh homegrown tomato or pepper they so love and miss. Some farmers may even deliver to people who are homebound or unable to make it to the pick-up site.

I thoroughly enjoyed being part of a CSA and would recommend it to anyone. I am excited to do it again this summer. If you would like to join a CSA program, check out the Local Harvest Website to find a local participating CSA farmer near you.

Jennifer Blanck is a MiCAFE Network Coordinator at Elder Law of Michigan and has been with Elder Law of Michigan since September 2014. As a MiCAFE Network Coordinator, Jennifer helps clients apply for benefits through the Department of Health and Human Services and helps find resources for clients with needs that cannot be met by one of our programs.