Posts Tagged ‘CSA farm’

How to choose a CSA

Saturday, January 26th, 2013


If you want to join a Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, farm this year, now is the time find out what’s available in the Ottawa region. Some CSAs have begun accepting applications for the 2013 season ( is already sold out), so don’t leave it until March or April to purchase your share.

As a CSA member, you pay a flat rate for a share of what the farm produces that year. In return, you receive a weekly basket of the farm’s freshest seasonal produce.  CSAs are becoming more popular across North America. With food safety a hot-button issue these days (think the XL Foods recalls in 2012 or the 2008 listeria scare), consumers want more information about where their food comes from and how it’s produced. Belonging to a CSA offers the kind of transparency people are looking for, as well as a chance to support family farming and the local economy.

To choose the CSA that’s the right fit, you’ll need to do a bit of homework.

Consult the Buy Local Guide

Find out what CSAs serve the Ottawa region by consulting Just Food’s Buy Local Guide. In most cases, there’s a link to the farm’s website so you can click through for more information. Call the CSAs you’re interested in, and consider arranging an in-person visit as well as speaking to current members.

Compare CSA features

Take note of:

  • pick-up/delivery arrangements. CSAs are usually located outside the city, but most will have drop-off spots in town, and a small number do home delivery.  Others ask members to collect their baskets from the farm gate.
  • types of products. Vegetable CSAs dominate, but some supply additional products — preserves, flowers, honey, eggs, pastured meat and poultry — that can be added to the weekly basket or purchased at the farm. Several CSAs provide meat and poultry only, such as Grazing Days (beef), Natural Lamb (lamb, turkey, chicken) and Upper Canada Heritage Meat (pork).
  • season length. The typical season runs 16 to 18 weeks, from June to October. However, several farms extend the season by growing in greenhouses or hoop houses; others offer one or more winter storage baskets (e.g., Ferme Lève-tôt, Rainbow Heritage Garden) stocked with root vegetables and greens.  Bryson Farms, a large non-standard CSA, grows and delivers food year-round.
  • price. Traditional CSAs charge a flat rate per share for the season that varies according to share size (different shares are available based on household size), product types and season length.  Non-standard CSAs charge per weekly box rather than per seasonal share.
  • member involvement. If being part of a community is important to you, look for a CSA that organizes educational workshops, volunteer workdays or seasonal potlucks.

Match CSA features with household needs

The CSA that suits a single person living in downtown Ottawa may not be the best fit for a 4-person household in the suburbs, so set clear priorities (flexible share sizes? home delivery? winter baskets?) and pick your CSA accordingly.  And don’t choose based on price alone: consider the total value the farm offers, including additional products and services and on-farm activities.

Make the most of the experience

To get the most from CSA membership, remember that it’s a very different experience from grocery shopping in a big-box outlet.  For example, as a CSA member, you:

  • share the benefits and risks of CSA farming. The goal of CSAs is to bring farmers and eaters into mutually supportive relationships in which they share the benefits and risks of growing food.  In other words, with good weather and good harvests, weekly baskets are plentiful; when poor weather or pests reduce crop yields, weekly baskets will be smaller and less varied.
  • become a seasonal eater. CSAs don’t offer the same foods year-round as supermarkets do. Instead, they bring you the best of the season. This may include items you’re not familiar with, so be willing to experiment. And while many CSAs provide members with recipes with each week’s basket, it makes sense to think ahead: learn what’s in season when, and make sure you have a supply of recipes on hand.

Are you a CSA member? How did you choose your CSA?

Related posts: 5 easy steps to seasonal eating, Join a CSA farm in 2013

Join a CSA farm in 2013

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

If you want to eat tastier, fresher, more eco-friendly food in 2013, consider joining a Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, farm. In the industrial food system, many layers separate eaters from farmers. These include processors, packers, shippers, wholesalers, retailers and others.  By contrast, CSAs bring eaters and farmers into direct relationships that help strengthen communities and local economies.

CSA members pay a flat rate at the start of the season for a share of what the farm harvests that year. This way, the farmer knows in advance how much to produce and can cover the costs of producing it. In return, members receive fresh, local food grown by people they know and trust.

CSAs begin signing up members in late winter and early spring, so this is a good time to learn about CSAs in the Ottawa region and find one that fits your needs.  

Where did CSAs get started and how many are there in North America?

The CSA model has its roots in community farm initiatives in Japan and Chile in the 1970s, and in the European biodynamic farming tradition. While there are few statistics on CSAs in Canada, the number of these farms appears to be growing. In the U.S., there are an estimated 6,000 to 6,500 CSAs.

How does CSA membership work?

You pay a set rate, in advance, for a weekly or bi-weekly basket/box of seasonal produce that you collect from the farm or from a drop-off spot. Some CSAs do home delivery. In addition to vegetables and herbs, baskets may also contain fruit, honey, meat, poultry and eggs, depending on the farm. You’ll enjoy bigger baskets when harvests are good and smaller ones when yields are less plentiful.

Will I get baskets year-round or only in summer?

Bryson Farms is one Ottawa area CSA that provides year-round service. However, most CSA seasons start in May or June and wind up sometime in the fall.

What can I expect to pay for CSA membership?

In the Ottawa area, typical rates range from $300 to $650 for the season. That said, you may pay more or less depending on factors such as the number of people in your household, the length of the CSA’s season and the products it offers. Some non-standard CSA farms charge per basket or box rather having than a flat seasonal rate.

Is CSA farming more environmentally sustainable?

Farming on a small scale for a local market is more environmentally sustainable. For example, in the industrial food system, fresh produce travels about 2,414 km (1,500 miles) before reaching the consumer. By contrast, food from a local CSA farm will have traveled less than 161 km (100 miles) and is likely to have been grown without fossil fuel-based fertilizers and pesticides.

I’m concerned about the recent safety scares in the industrial food system. Is food from a CSA farm safer?

What’s clear is that belonging to a CSA farm offers more transparency than buying food from your neighbourhood big box store or fast-food franchise. As a CSA member, you know the farmer who grows the lettuce, raises the chicken and harvests the honey in your basket this week. And you can visit the farm, see how the food is grown, and provide feedback on your food. If a safety problem arises, it will be on a much smaller scale than the kind of thing we’ve seen with XL Foods in Canada or Chamberlain Farms in the U.S. With industrial food operations, safety issues can affect many thousands of products and pinpointing the source of the problem can take time.

You’ve mentioned fresher food, traceability, support for family farms and sustainability. Do CSAs provide other benefits?

The CSA model has always been about building community. Individual farms approach this differently. Most CSAs issue newsletters to update members about what’s happening on the farm. Some encourage members to participate in volunteer workdays; others hold harvest celebrations, workshops or other events. All offer the opportunity for people to reconnect with food and farming.

Do you belong to a CSA? What motivated you to join?