Anatomy of a CSA

March 18, 2014 at 8:00 am

Editor’s Note: It’s that time of year when parents sign up for summer camp and everyone signs up for their CSA.  We’ve made a new list for 2014, and Robin Schirmer has much useful information to guide you through the selection process.  Perhaps you are also wondering what it will be like to have a CSA box. In 2008 Michael Morowitz dissected what he got.  We bet you’ll find something not that far off at the end of 2014.  Enjoy this post as we recycle through some Beet classics this week.

As 2008 comes to a close, winter markets are in full swing, I get my first winter CSA delivery this week, and 2009 CSA sign-ups are getting started. For those of you considering purchasing a CSA subscription for 2009, now is the time to sign up. Spaces can fill up fast and you can sometimes get a discount for early purchases.

I know that if you’re new to a CSA, it can be hard to take the plunge. I thought I’d take apart my 2008 CSA half-share from Homegrown Wisconsin to help demystify the whole experience.

How did it work?

I purchased a half-share since there are only two eaters in my household (not counting the twins who are not on solid food yet and who didn’t exist during the 2008 sign-up period). A half-share equals ten deliveries, every other week, from June to October. I also added a dozen eggs to each delivery for an extra fee. (You can also add a lb. of cheese for a fee).

My deliveries went to a residential home not far from my neighborhood. One of the reasons I chose HGW last year was the ease of the pick-up locations. Every Wednesday I went to this home and picked up my delivery from their garage (there was a four hour window for pickups). The pick-up process could not be easier. Pop-in, grab your stuff, sign the sheet, and leave. There was only one delivery I couldn’t make, and a friend was able to pick it up.

So what did you get?
Since HGW is a cooperative of farms, I received a nice variety of produce every week. As expected, deliveries can vary in size due to harvest times but each delivery had a good variety and plenty of stuff to keep me busy cooking and storing. My goal was for 100% usage of what we received. I didn’t quite achieve that, but I was certainly in the neighborhood of 95%, with some items currently in the deep-freeze or fridge.

A Typical CSA Delivery.

A Typical CSA Delivery. Here’s a complete breakdown of what I received over the 10 deliveries:

Green Leafy Things

  • 7 Lettuce (summer crisp, bibb, little gem romaine, green leaf, Red batavian)
  • 2 bags of fresh spinach
  • Collard greens
  • Napa cabbage
  • Wild grape leaves
  • Lacinato kale
  • 2 Arugula
  • Mizuna
  • Frizze
  • Green cabbage head
  • Red cabbage head
  • Red radicchio
  • Bok Choy
  • Sunflower micro greens
Misc. above-ground produce

  • Kohlrabi
  • Cauliflower
  • 2 broccoli heads
  • asparagus
  • Sugar snap peas (first pick of the season from this farm) x2
  • Italian romano beans
  • 2 Cucumbers (Diva variety?)
  • Japanese cucumber
  • Eggplant
  • Small celery stalk
  • 4 ears of sweet corn
  • Many tomatoes (heirloom, green, red slicing, saladette, green zebra, sungold cherry)
  • 3 mushroom deliveries (white and crimini)
Underground Produce

  • 4 bags of carrots
  • Parsnips
  • Turnip
  • 2 daikon radish
  • radishes
  • 3 sacks of potatoes (wide variety)
  • 2 sweet potato deliveries (various varieties and sizes)
  • at least 6 large beets
  • white turnips

  • Banana pepper
  • 5 green bell peppers
  • Red bell pepper (already chopped up in a quinoa salad)
  • 2 Italian frying peppers
  • Unknown hot peppers (four or five)

  • Gold summer squash
  • Yellow summer squash
  • acorn squash
  • butternut squash
  • spaghetti squash
  • pie pumpkin
  • 2 delicata squash
  • zucchini

  • Garlic scapes
  • green garlic
  • 7 heads of garlic
  • spring onions
  • Red bottle onions (twice)
  • 5 red onions
  • 2 white onions
  • 2 leeks
Sweet stuff

  • Strawberries (twice)
  • rhubarb (three times)
  • Small yellow watermelon
  • Raspberries
  • Musk melon
  • Apples three times(honeycrisp, mutsu, dolgo crabapples)
  • Plums
  • Pears

  • Flat-leaf parsley (twice)
  • Mint
  • Chives (twice)
  • Sage
  • Basil
  • Dried mint
Stuff in packages

  • Jar of pear butter
  • Jar of Honey
  • 10 dozen eggs
OK. So how much did this all cost?
The total was $365.00 (this year’s cost is slightly higher). A full-share is much more economical than a half-share, if you can consume or properly store all that produce. I’m happy with the value for the dollar I received.
How was the quality?
Everything was as good as you’d find at any local market, in some cases better. I was particularly happy with the variety and quality of greens, squash, and carrots.
What else do I need to know?
Most CSAs, including this one, give you a helpful and interesting newsletter with information about your delivery, farmer bios, recipes, storage tips, etc. The newsletter was delivered via their website, and the coordinator was always available via email to answer any questions.

There are two practical things I enjoy the most about being a part of a CSA: I love to cook, so I like to receive new things that I might normally pass up in a market. This year I cooked mizuna, romano beans, and delicata squash: three great things that I’ve never cooked before. Also, I love having a base of produce always available that I can easily supplement with farmers market trips. I always found myself heading to the Federal Plaza market for peaches, blueberries, spring onions, and a few other things. But, I didn’t have to go overboard because there was always a steady stream of good, local produce at home.

I’m not affiliated with Homegrown Wisconsin in any way, and I don’t want this to be a commercial for them. There are a lot of CSAs out there that cater to a variety of different needs and locations (We’ll be publishing a 2009 guide soon). I just hope this helps de-mystify a CSA subscription for those of you who may be considering joining one in 2009.