What to expect when you join a CSA.
WRITTEN BY KELSEY FITZGERALD
PHOTOS BY SHAUN HUNTER
CSA produce awaits packaging and distribution at Lattin Farms in Fallon
Community-supported agriculture, or CSA, programs, in which you pay up front for a season-long subscription to farm-fresh produce, have been available in the Reno-Tahoe region for some time. But if you’ve never tried one, or have had some time away, you may find it worth taking a fresh look. For insider advice, we consulted experts from two local CSA programs — Kasey Crispin, co-owner of Prema Farm north of Reno, and Kelli Kelly, executive director of the Fallon Food Hub — on CSAs and what you should know before you sign up.
Crispin and Kelly agree that before joining a CSA, it is wise to explore your options. Most CSAs require commitments from subscribers to pick up their boxes of produce on set schedules at designated pickup sites; a few deliver right to your doorstep. Some subscriptions are for individuals or couples while others best suit larger families. Some CSAs pre-select what you will receive each week, and others allow you to build a custom box. Some CSAs are run by one individual farm, and others incorporate produce collected from farms across the region. Every program is set up a little differently, so understanding your options may help you select one that fits best with your lifestyle and dietary preferences.
Fallon Food Hub Executive Director Kelli Kelly helps distribute CSA boxes at Rail City Garden Center in Sparks, one of the Great Basin Basket Farm Share’s distribution locations
Think inside the box
Making the most of your CSA membership requires a willingness to try new foods — from kohlrabi to honeynut squash and beyond — and a new way of constructing your weekly menu. CSA boxes will be filled with whatever is in season locally. So, rather than creating your grocery list around whatever you want to cook or eat each week, you’ll get more enjoyment out of your CSA subscription if you embrace the challenge of creating meals with what you’ve been given — and in finishing everything in your box.
“Having an open mind and adventurous spirit about the experience is definitely helpful,” Kelly says.
Consider yourself a shareholder
When you join a CSA, you aren’t just buying a weekly box of produce, Crispin says. You’re investing in the future of the farm or farms by paying for produce before it has even been planted. Similar to making a stock market investment, a certain amount of risk is inherent in the process. It is important for CSA subscribers to be aware that sometimes crops fail, or unexpected mishaps arise. Other times you may receive more zucchini or pumpkins than you know what to do with. But no matter the outcome, support from CSA members can be essential to the survival of small organic farms.
“That’s just part of this notion of supporting local agriculture,” Crispin says. “You’re going to get vegetables in return, but you’re paying in advance so that farmers can live and have a functional livelihood.”
Savor the flavors
If you’re accustomed to buying produce at the grocery store, you’re in for a treat with your CSA membership, Kelly says. Industrial-scale farms generally select produce varietals that grow rapidly, ship well, and have long shelf lives; flavor is of lesser importance. In contrast, you can expect the locally grown goods in your CSA box to taste much better.
“When you’re interacting with food that has been grown locally by environmentally sustainable farms, you’re looking at products that have been bred and selected for their tastiness and flavor quality, as opposed to all of those other industrial characteristics,” Kelly says.
Kelsey Fitzgerald is a freelance writer in Reno who enjoys cooking with locally grown veggies.
Fallon Food Hub’s Great Basin Basket Farm Share program
Prema Farm’s CSA program
For an updated listing of CSAs and more information, visit Ediblerenotahoe.com/2012-01-27-04-24-16/csas.