At the end of October, when Josh and I were still living in Bolton, we decided to join a CSA. Neither of us had ever been members of one before and wanted to, and even though we were approaching winter, with Vermont having such a strong local food movement, we knew we could find a CSA to meet our needs.
We chose Dog River Farm, which is certified organic and based near Montpelier, and had a pick-up spot only 15 minutes from our old apartment. For $325, we got 9 shares from November through March. That ends up equaling $36 per share, or $18 per week.
When we signed up, we didn’t quite know what to expect. We didn’t know how much food would arrive in each box. We didn’t know we’d be moving on December 1 to the Mad River Valley, making us a lot farther from our CSA pick-up site. But we tried it anyway, as an experiment and a way to support the local food system.
After taking part in this experiment for the last four months, I’ve come away with a bunch of lessons learned for next time, and the things about a CSA I truly value. Another big part of what I learned from joining a CSA is what we’d want to provide for our own members if we were ever to start our own CSA. Cause that would be pretty amazing. And what better way to know than to be on the customers’ side?
Having a lot of variety is a big deal. The first box of food we picked up was pretty basic – like lots of carrots, potatoes, and squash. It was good, but my first reaction was that I wasn’t too impressed, unfortunately. (Does that make me picky, or snobby? Hmm.) As the season went on, we received all kinds of root vegetables, including turnips, parsnips, and beets, and lots of garlic, onions, and shallots. Again, all good stuff, and I’m always happy to have organic, local food on hand, but I think the piece to remember here is that it was a winter CSA. And winter foods in Vermont equate to lots and lots of root veggies.
Quality is key. Especially food that you’re paying a bit of a premium for. The hard thing for a farmer with offering a winter CSA is that the food is grown in the summer and fall, and then given to the CSA members over the winter. That gives the food some time to age a bit, and, as all farmers rely on the weather, growing is not always so predictable. We’ve heard that June 2012 was really humid, which resulted in some moldy heads of garlic in the CSA share.
Was paying for a CSA worth it? Well, it’s hard to determine because many of the features don’t have a true cost. Like buying locally-grown. And organically-grown. And trying some new foods because you get a bunch of different kinds of veggies all placed in a box. But as far as the monetary value of the CSA, it seemed a little high for the amount of food we were getting. The only way to truly know would have been to weigh each bag of food, write the price, and then go to our food coop to compare numbers, since they usually sell all kinds of local, organic produce. Or we can join another CSA in the future as a comparison.
We loved finding fun, unexpected items in our weekly shares. Frozen blueberries, maple syrup, spreadable herbed cheese, kimchee, spinach, and salad greens were all major highlights. Having fresh greens in the depths of winter while seeing snow fall for hours is a big deal around here. So is getting value-added products. If we ever start a CSA, we’ll definitely throw in fun value-added products, like homemade jams and granola.
Would we join a CSA again? We’re not sure, at least not now. Since we don’t know how long we’ll be living in the Valley, it seems financially risky to pay for a share. There are some pretty cool-sounding CSAs around here, but I think once the warm weather hits and the farmers’ markets start up in full force again, we’ll plant some of our own food in containers on the porch, and we’ll check out the farmers’ markets each week. And maybe we’ll give ourselves a budget of $18 per week to simulate what we were paying for the CSA. That would be an interesting experiment too.
Note : While I didn’t end up sharing the fill of the last few boxes, you can read more about the first six boxes and find lots of winter CSA inspired recipes here : box one. box two. box three. box four. box five. box six.