Join a CSA
Purchase a CSA share and receive a weekly portion of the farm’s products. Farmers benefit from a long-term customer, and consumers get fresh, delicious, healthy fruit and vegetables, and meat, at below-retail prices.
CSA is increasingly popular in Tompkins County; over 4,200 CSA shares were sold in 2014.
If you want to fill your fridge with fresh, healthy produce at a very affordable price, a CSA is for you. Check out our short list of local vegetable and fruit farms here, or discover a more comprehensive CSA directory with specialty options on the CCE-Tompkins website.
Who should join a CSA?
A vegetable CSA is great for people who want or need to get a lot vegetables in their diet. It is also be helpful to be into cooking or be prepared to learn.
How to choose a CSA?
Peruse our local CSA guide to get to know the different CSA offerings. Aside from making sure you are getting the type of product you want (vegetables or meat or fruit or...), you should consider:
Share size and type - farms offer “small”, “large”, “family”, “basic”, “premium”, “half” and “full” sizes. There are no standard sizes used by all farms. Call the farm to get the right size for you.
Season - A typical summer vegetable CSA share lasts 23 weeks from June - November, but some farms offer semester shares for those with schedules tied to our local colleges, and winter shares as well.
Price - Prices vary. Some farms offer “working shares”, where members can work in exchange for a lower payment. Subsidized vegetable CSA shares--50% off--are available for households with limited income through Healthy Food for All.
Payment - Some farms require upfront payment; others offer payment plans.
Pickup location - Farms may offer one or more pick-up locations and on different days. Some farms will deliver; others will set up a drop-off spot if they have enough customers there.
The Farm & Farming - some farms offer U-pick and work opportunities, so you might want to check out the farm’s location. Some farms are certified organic.
You can meet many of the CSA farmers by attending a CSA Open House hosted by Cooperative Extension of Tompkins in March or April of each year.
Should I do a Box Share or Free Choice? Some farms pre-pack boxes every week while others allow the member to pick & choose certain quantities from the week’s harvest. Depending on your preference, this can make a big difference in whether or not you enjoy your CSA. While some like the convenience and anticipation of pre-packed boxes, others like to handpick their produce.
When will I pick up my share? The pick-up/delivery days and times vary by CSA farm. Choosing a farm with a pick-up day and time convenient for you will have a big impact on your experience throughout the entire CSA season. Do you like to run errands on your way home from work, or on the weekend? Think about your current weekly routine and how picking up your CSA can fit in and enrich the experience.
Where will I pick up my share? Some CSA farms have many options, some just a few. Do you want the experience of visiting a farm each week and picking out your produce or do you want a quick and convenient pickup close to where you live or work? Pickups on the farm often include u-pick options.
Got Additional Questions and/or Ideas?
Contact Avi Miner, local food educator at Cooperative Extension of Tompkins, at email@example.com or (607) 272-2292. Avi can not only answer your questions, but can come to your workplace and speak on local food resources, including workplace CSA drop-offs.
To learn more about subsidized CSA shares provided by Healthy Food for All, contact Elizabeth Karabinakis, Cornell Cooperative Extension, at 607-272-2292 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kris Townsend grew up eating healthily. She bemoans the lack of vegetables in her early diet, but says she never touched a piece of junk food until her 20s. Kris, a native Ithacan, traveled the country for several years as a Christian missionary before she landed back in her home city. Now, she resides in Ithaca and receives a CSA share through Healthy Food for All.
Healthy Food For All is “a program to subsidize your CSA share, so basically you only have to pay half for your CSA share,” said Kris. “Usually it’s for the summer, but I actually got [the CSA] for one winter also, so I’m hoping that I do it again this year, because I eat a whole lot better.”
Kris noticed that her first major change in diet happened between summer and winter, when she wasn’t eating as many green vegetables as she did in the warmer months. “Definitely your tastebuds change,” she said. “I’ve learned to cook tons of foods that I’ve never even heard of.” For example, she had never heard of swiss chard, but Kris’s attitude is: “if you don’t know how to cook it and it’s green, just put it in a saucepan with some onions and garlic and fry it up!”
In the summer, Kris makes a lot of green smoothies, meaning she combines vegetables and fruit in a smoothie in order to boost nutrients without compromising flavor. “I felt better because I got more veggies that way,” she said. “I eat at least one salad a day, and I can’t sit through a meal without vegetables.”
Kris says she wishes she’d been brought up eating the amount of vegetables she now receives in her CSA. “I just wish I had known more about the importance of greens in your diet,” she says. Her family often ate corn, which she doesn’t eat anymore because “it’s GMO [genetically modified].”
Kris has had her CSA for about 10 or 11 years. Though she’s not sure exactly how much money she saves by receiving a CSA, because she would “never buy that many vegetables at the store.” However, she did some quick math. One bunch of kale in the store costs $3-4 and one pound of salad greens costs $5, and Kris receives about three bunches of kale and 2 lbs of salad greens a week in her CSA, plus a plethora more of vegetables. Therefore, she saves quite a bit of money on vegetables, at the very least.
One of Kris’s favorite things about receiving a CSA is, “I know where it came from and I know where it was grown. It makes a big difference to know the energy that’s put in.” Since being part of a CSA, “I’ve learned a lot about food and the value of it in relation to our bodies, and what it actually does.”
Kris also suggests that people thinking about getting a CSA share one with a friend. She also recommends starting slowly when introducing vegetables into your diet. “Start with green leafy vegetables because they have the most nutrition that’s going to help your body,” she says.
When Kris is not cooking from her CSA, she runs a catering business called Scrumptious Soup, which caters soups, salads and sandwiches. She has also taught a cooking class at the Cornell Cooperative Extension focused on cooking vegetables from your CSA. For someone so immersed in cooking healthy, local food, it’s hard to believe that Kris once called herself the “corn chip queen.” Now, she “can’t even eat those corn chips anymore, they make me literally ill.”
Profile by GYGB intern Sarah Paez