CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. In it’s simplest form, it’s a partnership between farmers and their local community where both parties share the benefits and support of sustainable, local agriculture.
CSA farm customers (“members” or “shareholders”) commit early in the year to buy a farm’s harvest by purchasing a farm “share.” Over the growing season, CSA members receive a weekly box or selection of the farm’s harvest.
CSA works great for members because there is a price discount from retail prices (members save money!), shares are often brought to more convenient locations for pick-up, and members have access to a host of added benefits like visiting the farm, meeting other local folks interested in supporting farms, getting newsletters with tailored recipes, and lots more. CSA works great for farmers because they know in advance how many members they are serving (so they have exact numbers of what they need to grow), they have more cash on hand early in the season to buy cropping supplies, and they have the support and connections with a community of members.
Shares each week contain a range of different herbs and vegetables, with the variety depending on the season. "Regular" shares are our larger size and have 8 to 11 crops each week, and "Small" shares have 5 or 6 crops each week. We strive to provide members with a balanced mix each week of salad greens, root vegetables, fruit vegetables, cooking greens, herbs, and unique/fun vegetables, but the beginning of the season tends to be heavier on salad vegetables and leafy greens, while the summer weeks and fall shares have more fruiting veggies and root crops. Some staples we try to have most weeks (like lettuce) or every other week (like carrots or potatoes), while other crops just make one or two appearances each season. We also have a whole page on the website where you can check out pictures of what past shares looked like and read some newsletters to get a feel of the seasonal flow!
Shares are determined based on seasonality and volume of produce. We harvest all produce the day before pickup or the same day to ensure optimal freshness. There is really no way to inform of what is going to be in the shares each week.
Confession time... I hated vegetables growing up, except for asparagus. It's not until I started working on our farm that I started to like vegetables. So, our farmer answer of course is... try it a new way (using fresh produce) and maybe you'll like it this time! This happens a lot with crops like Brussels sprouts, which are tasty if they are cooked correctly. We provide recipes to help make less familiar vegetables easier to use. Of course, maybe you won't like certain vegetables on second taste, and that's fine too! You never have to take or eat any vegetable we offer.
That's a good question... no, and yes... One much-touted component of CSA is shared risk. In a typical season, experienced growers (like Salem Farms) have a good sense of how much and what crops they need to grow to make their members happy. CSA comes first for us (before any farmers markets or wholesale customers), and we have a track record of happy and satisfied customers. However... there can be a small risk, as local food customers discovered at CSAs and farmers markets throughout the east two years ago after the hurricane and the tropical storm flooded farms across the northeast and cut their growing season short. So is there risk, and while we can plan for many possible outcomes, we can't plan for some natural disasters (we just focus on hoping they don't come!).
In a CSA, members mostly pay up front for the produce they receive later in the season. This is incredibly helpful for us as your farmers. First, we know exactly how many people we are growing for, so crop planning and planting is a bit simplified. Second, we actually buy 85% of our farm inputs for the year in February, March, and April, so having income early in the season means we don’t have to rely as much on credit or operating loans. However, even as experienced farmers, we can’t tell in advance what the weather or pest or disease problems may be for that season. So we plant extra, and plan for multiple plantings of each crop in case some fail, and have all sorts of emergency supplies and contingency plans on hand. Starting in the 2014 season, we actually shortened our season by two weeks, so we have two extra weeks of buffer in the fall in case of any spring weather disasters like a deep freeze! We do our best to get all your veggies to you, but we unfortunately can’t guarantee that you will see all your favorite veggies in the best quantity in a given year.