Although some days it still doesn’t feel like it, it’s officially spring, which means now is the time to consider joining a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. CSA programs offer a weekly share of garden produce, and in some cases, additional products like eggs, meat, flowers, or canned goods, in exchange for a lump sum payment at the beginning of the growing season. This model is beneficial to both farmers and consumers. For farmers, offering CSA shares provides capital for start-of-the-season costs. For consumers, benefits come mostly in terms of nutrition and economic savings. CSA participants have been shown to eat more fruits and vegetables during the season, and therefore more health-promoting nutrients such as fiber, vitamin A, and cancer-fighting antioxidants and phytonutrients. As a CSA participant for the past 2 years, I can definitely attest to eating more veggies during the CSA season!
Even though weekly share costs may appear expensive, comparison of CSA prices with the retail value of equivalent amounts of produce have shown significant savings for the CSA participant. In fact, studies show the retail value of the produce received from a CSA share to be 120-250% the cost of the share price. If it still feels pricey, you can do as the Andrews and Stokes families have done the past couple of seasons, and split a share with another family. You can still get the benefits of fresh veggies each week, albeit less of them, at half the cost.
Finally, CSA participants also have the opportunity to form a connection with the farmer who grows their food, something that cannot be done with store-bought produce. Some CSA farms also offer volunteer opportunities or member events to further promote a sense of community.
Participation in a CSA does involve shared risk. There are no guarantees if a hail storm wipes out half of the garden. However, most farmers want to provide CSA members with good value for their participation and will prioritize the CSA shares if produce is scarce.
Several MUS campuses offer CSA programs in conjunction with a campus farm, and all are recruiting participants now. You can also search Local Harvest for a CSA located near you. Check out the info below and sign up today!
- Flathead Valley Campus-Farm-CSA-2017
- MSU Bozeman Towne’s Harvest
- UM PEAS Farm/Garden City Harvest CSA