If you want to get locally grown, organic food fresh from the farm and at an affordable cost, consider participating in a community supported agriculture program, or CSA.  In these programs, a group of people purchase a “share” of a local farm’s food production.  The amount you pay helps cover operating costs, as well as the farmer’s salary.

As food is produced, you receive a share equal to your contribution.  Smaller families, for example, may choose to purchase a half share or split a whole share with another family.  With a CSA, you aren’t guaranteed a certain amount of food, only an appropriate share of what the farm produces.  If the growing season produces less food than expected – whether from drought or insect infestation, for example – you may get less food than you expected.  But if the growing season is bountiful, you may be surprised at just how much food you get.

CSAs are a wonderful way to get fresh local produce, including some vegetables that you may not be used to seeing in your grocer’s produce section.  There are some foods that simply don’t travel well, and therefore typically aren’t available in grocery stores.  This isn’t the case, however, with CSA.  Because you receive your CSA disbursement every week, the food will be picked at the height of its flavor and nutritional value.  Some CSAs require you to pick up your food at the farm, while others arrange a central pickup location or deliver your food to your home.

In addition, some CSAs divide the week’s production to all shareholders, while others do allow you to make some choices about the foods you receive.  For example, if you can’t stand broccoli, you may be able to exchange it for an extra serving of lettuce or tomatoes.  Many farms also include fresh fruits in their member shares, while others include cheese, flowers, eggs and locally produced meat.  Any products that aren’t used are usually donated to a local food bank or shelter, further benefitting the local community.

If you’re someone who would like to have a garden in theory, but as a practical matter, have neither the time or land, nor the physical ability to grow your own food, participating in CSA can be a wonderful alternative.  When families participate in a CSA program, they often find their children are more interested in “their” food, in learning where the food came from, and in eating the foods that were grown on “their” farms.

Participating in a CSA is also a good thing for the farmer.  First, the farmer knows in advance what the income will be for that growing season, regardless of how much food he or she is able to produce.  The farmer also has a ready-made market for the products and need not worry about finding a place to sell the food.

Community supported agriculture programs are a way to help bring the community together and restore the relationship people had with their food once again.  If you’re interested in participating in a CSA program, search online for one near you or ask around at your neighborhood farmers market for contact information.