What is Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), and how does it work?
Since the life and vitality of our network of farms hinges on each farm’s individuality and unique farm operation, the answer to “how it works” is as many and varied as farms in the CSA Coalition. That being said, we can offer some basic background on the core concepts and provide answers our frequently asked questions to help you narrow down your search and find the right farm for you, your family or your workplace.
What is CSA?
CSA is MUCH MORE than just a weekly delivery of food or food products. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a powerful investment in your health, community, and local economy. It’s a partnership between farms and consumers that keeps independent businesses thriving, helps families eat seasonal, local produce, and charges farmers and consumers with the responsibility of building a strong, equitable food system. Learn more about the history of CSA.
How does it work?
In general, CSA farms sign up members from December-April (or until a farm fills up…which can often happen as early as March!) for the coming growing season. New members pay for their share of vegetables up front (some farms offer installment payment plans, but many require full payment at enrollment) and receive a weekly or bi-weekly delivery of vegetables through the 20-28 week high growing season from May-October.
Once you’re enrolled in your farm, the real fun begins as the weekly box of freshly picked, seasonal goodies arrive in your neighborhood.
Most farms write newsletters or blogs for their membership to keep folks connected to life on the farm, introduce new veggies, and inspire new recipes and culinary adventures using all the contents of your weekly box. Opportunities abound to engage with YOUR FARM, to interact with YOUR FARMERS, and to truly become a part of the farm community through on-farm events and special activities. You’ve made the commitment to buy from a local farm and eat the freshest food available; we encourage you to engage in your greater farm community and bring your commitment full circle.
How can I tell if CSA is a good choice for me and my family?
Do you enjoy cooking at home, or want to learn? Do you like the flavors and challenges of seasonal eating and the idea of committing to your food producers? Then CSA could be great for you!
Do I get to choose the veggies that are included in a CSA share?
At some farms with on-farm pick up, you do get to select your veggies, but at most, you get what the farmer provides in your box. Pick-up sites often have “swap boxes” where you can leave a vegetable you don’t like and take home the veggies someone else has given away. Think of it as a culinary adventure. You will probably learn to like new veggies via your CSA share. Most farms include recipes in their newsletters.
What types of shares are available?
JenEhr shares come in two options - every week and every other week. Because the farm is providing the freshest produce with a great deal of attention to post-harvest handling (washing, sorting, packing and cooling), produce keeps longer. That means if a "share" retrieved from your pick up location will stay good in your refrigerator for two weeks. So we offer a full share, 8-12 items packed in a nearly bushel sized box that you pick up each week. The half share is the same sized "box" with the same produce, just picked up every other week. That way you never miss out on produce offered by the farm. Plus Farmer Paul plans his planting schedule based on two week allotments.
Besides the regular season shares, JenEhr offers a six-week early season share (May to mid June) loaded with the first greens from the hoophouses, asparagus and rhubarb along with carrots, beets, potatoes and some special surprises, such as roasted red peppers, tomato puree and even frozen tomatoes.
The JenEhr fall storage share is a one-time, Saturday before Thanksgiving share that allows you to feed your family and friends through the holiday season. It includes lots of great "storage" produce, such as beets, rutabaga, carrots, winter radishes, turnips, winter squash along with fresh greens from the hoophouses, lettuce, spinach, brussel sprouts, broccoli, arugula.
Chicken shares are unique to JenEhr, in that we believe pastured chickens provide a perfect balance to our organic rotation - clover pastures where chickens graze. This allows the soil to remain undisturbed for four years, building soil and fertility while growing chickens that get to roam and graze. JenEhr chickens are not certified organic because we simply don't have the acreage, equipment or time to grow and grind our own organic feed. Instead we purchase a conventional corn/soy based feed from our farmer neighbors.
I’ve heard something about health insurance rebates for CSA. What’s that?
Health insurance providers are recognizing and rewarding their members for proactive healthy choices, one being eating a healthy diet full of fresh vegetables. Now the Coalition has several Health Plan Partners that are providing cash rebates to their members for purchasing CSA vegetable shares from a Coalition farm. GHC-SCW, Physicians Plus, and Unity Health offer $100-$200 cash rebates for purchasing fruit or vegetable CSA shares. Learn more about FairShare’s CSA Healthy Rebate Program.
I’m on a limited income. Do you provide financial assistance?
FairShare’s Partner Shares Program works to reduce the barriers of CSA membership in our community by providing cost-sharing opportunities, and accepting payment plans and Quest card payments. Low-income households can get up to a $300 grant toward the cost of joining a farm.
CSA seems kind of pricey. Why should I pay a farmer up front of instead of shopping at a grocery store?
CSA is so much more than a bag of groceries. When you think about the value of your CSA share, there’s a lot to consider. Buying directly from the farm means you are buying the very freshest, tastiest food. Vegetable varieties are grown for quality, flavor and diversity – not shelf life. CSA helps you learn where your food comes from, how it’s grown, and how to prepare it. When you join a CSA, you keep your food dollars local and support a small family farm. Becoming a CSA member means you’re joining a community of conscious eaters. Invest in good, clean food and the creation of a safe, community-based food system in Southern Wisconsin!
How can I make the most of my share? What if I get a veggie I’m not familiar with?
We highly recommend purchasing one of our cookbooks:
“From Asparagus to Zucchini” is an indispensable, nationally renowned resource for people who want to make the most of local and seasonal produce. It’s packed with more than 400 recipes, and cooking and storage tips for over 50 vegetables and herbs – all in alphabetical order! Celeriac, parsnip, burdock root, fennel? No problemo! Order Now!