What the heck is a CSA, you ask?  A CSA (short for Community Supported Agriculture) is an arrangement where the "shareholders" (that's you) pay a group of farmers in advance for a "share" of their collective crop throughout the growing season.  Under this model, the farmers get a steady market for their crops and you get to enjoy the fruits of their labor throughout the summer and fall.  It is like having a mini farmer's market in your own kitchen!

My family just signed up for our second season with Home Grown Wisconsin, a cooperative of over twenty farms committed to using sustainable and organic practices.  We pick up our weekly box at a location less than a mile from our house.  The contents of each week's box are always a surprise, although we get an email a day in advance telling us what to expect, plus recipes and tips for storing and using the produce.  Our whole family has benefited from our CSA experience and we cannot wait for this season to begin.

Sound like something your family might enjoy?  Here are a few reasons to consider signing up for a CSA in your area:

(1) Feed your family healthy and delicious food.  The produce I have gotten through my CSA has always been tasty and fresh.  We've enjoyed carrots that look and taste like real carrots and strawberries that are as sweet as candy.  We have had the opportunity to try all sorts of vegetables (like kale) that I used to just pass by at the market because I was never sure how to use them.  What's not to like about having a refrigerator full of organic fruits and veggies, ready for your family to eat?

(2)  Enjoy the financial benefits of buying local organics.  Buying organic can be expensive.  My CSA costs about $27 a week (which is certainly a lot less than a week's worth of organic produce from Whole Foods!).  If you are committed to serving your family organics when possible, a CSA can be good for your budget.  The CSA model allows you to consume locally-grown, organic produce and eliminates the cost of transportation and distribution from the price of your food.  The produce is harvested and literally travels from the farm to your table.

(3)  Learn About Your Food.  A CSA is a great opportunity to teach your kids that eggplants and blueberries don't just appear on grocery store shelves.  For my little urban-dwelling babes, our CSA was a chance to talk about that fact that people work hard to grow the food we eat.  My kids may not have been willing to try every single item in our weekly boxes, but they had the chance to learn about a variety of produce and watch Mom and Dad eat it.  Our CSA was also a wonderful chance for me to expand my own food horizons.  I certainly wasn't sure what to do with a garlic scape the first time I saw one.  We learned how to cook with rhubarb, chard and fennel, all of which now make regular appearances on our dinner menu. 

(4) Feel good about your food choices.  A CSA is good for farmers.  A CSA is good for you and your family.  A CSA is good for the environment.  And a CSA is also very good for the local economy.  Everyone benefits.  Pat yourself on the back for making the choice to be a part of a model of living and eating well that benefits your entire community!

Now is the time to sign up for a CSA for the coming season.  Check out Local Harvest for more information on CSAs in your area.  Family Farmed is another great resource for information on sustainable farming in the Midwest.  It won't be long now until we are enjoying spring's first asparagus.  Happy eating!