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I hate my CSA. . . tell me I'm not alone


Dr. Teeth
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I joined a CSA for the first time about two months ago, and I think it's not an experience I need to repeat. Every week a 13 dollar bag of Hakurei Turnips, one small baggie of salad greens, a bunch of arugala and a couple of lonely radishes arrives. Usually there is my surprise for the week, a head of tat soi or a single sweet potato the size of a child's fist.

Aside for the general feeling that I could get more for my money shopping at Whole Paycheck who the hell wants to eat turnip greens and turnips twice a week. I feel like I'm back at my Parent's house where I eat what's put in front of me.

The person who talked me into the half share told me she thinks it makes her a better cook to learn how to use ingredients she doesn't see everyday, but really, I think the learning curve has flattened out, and besides who doesn't know how to cook turnip.

I know it's part of being a good foodie to think that CSA's are the be all, end all but I think I'm though. Anyone else had the same experience? Is this just a bad CSA or a bad season?

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Well, a couple of things. CSAs are not going to be at their best in the winter in terms of variety. Also, I've found that, depending on the size of the share, splitting one with someone limits you even more. I split a half-share with someone a few years ago and, like you, found it to be extremely disappointing. I got my own half-share at a later date and enjoyed much more. The best stuff is going to go to the full shares, so if you have the people or the preservation skills to put that to use, it will end up with the best variety. Finally, it does pay to shop around, meet your farmers - the best way is usually at the farmers' market because you can see the variety and quality of the produce, as well as figure out if they are friendly / responsive to you as a customer. I love the farmers I have my CSA with, but they are my third try. They were my favorite stand at the farmers' market for years and when they went the CSA route, I jumped at the chance and haven't looked back.

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I dont like the lack of control with these things and I find them very expensive around here. I participated in a couple a few years back and maybe they have gotten better but could never find the advantage of it ..unless you hate shopping and choosing something I adore

I am also very lucky to be able to grow things year around here most people can in protected pots I think it is always an option :)

why am I always at the bottom and why is everything so high? 

why must there be so little me and so much sky?

Piglet 

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My preference is to buy "retail" directly from farmers or Farmers' Markets, getting what I want and what I need. That being said, I have and do participate in some limited CSA's that provide stability and regularity for certain frequently used items.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Sorry if I seem to be bragging, but I love mine, Moore Farms, which serves Metro Atlanta. That being said, I suppose they're not a typical CSA.

Moore Farms contracts with other farms in the Southeast to provide a wider selection of produce, as well as meat, dairy products and a few other items as well. Although they do have a "Farmer's Choice" selection, you can pay a small fee to pick your own selection. You order every week, so if you don't want anything in a given week, you don't have to worry about using it up or canceling your order. (It doesn't hurt that the store where I work and teach is one of the drop-off locations, either.)

I wonder if there are other farms in the country following this model -- anyone know of similar operations elsewhere?

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I think it's a bad CSA, and it's the wrong season to join. I've belonged to 5 different CSAs in different parts of the country, and none of them has been remotely like what you're describing. But really, a person new to a CSA should join at the beginning of the season. After a whole summer of beautiful produce, one is often more understanding about what's available during each week of the growing season and more willing to support the farmer through the leaner part of the year.

Because that's a big part of it all. It's not just about the consumer, it's about the farmer being able to pay her bills all winter too. You don't just buy food when you join a CSA, you buy a stake in a farm and in the fate of the farmer.

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I feel your pain Dr. Teeth. My wife's friend is a member of our local CSA and new I like to cook so sent info on joining. I was ho-hum about joining but my wife really wanted to do it (she doesn't cook). Said you will like it you buy all that weird stuff anyway. I know this is the winter season but on our fist pick up we got 3 kinds of choys, kale and mustards, some salad greens a bunch of 3 radishes, 1 cucumber. The last two pick ups have not been too different. Heavy on the greens and Asian greens.

I really have no problem with the greens since I like cooking them. The choys have been a challenge since I really don't like the flavor of bok choy in stir frys. I have found that if I make an Asian based soup I can dump a ton of choys in there and it taste good. I'm hoping for more diversity as the seasons change but will be reluctant to renew. It does have a feel good quality to be part of a CSA. I just don't think I'm getting my $ worth

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... Because that's a big part of it all.  It's not just about the consumer, it's about the farmer being able to pay her bills all winter too.  You don't just buy food when you join a CSA, you buy a stake in a farm and in the fate of the farmer.

Yes, this is a big part of joining a CSA, and it's one I've come to appreciate a lot more over the past few years. I belonged to a small CSA for two seasons. I was extremely disappointed in both quality and quantity of the produce after the first season, but felt I had to give it another season before making a decision. (Sometimes a farm will have a bad season; that's when they need your support.) After the second season left me with the same disappointments, I found another CSA. I like this one a lot -- the produce is much better, there is more variety, I get enough produce to actually cook something (in the first CSA we would get one leek; what am I supposed to do with one leek?), etc. So sometimes you have to shop around. It turns out that several people in the new CSA I joined also used to belong to the CSA I left, and they left it too, for pretty much the same reasons I did.

At the beginning of the season, when pretty much all we were getting were greens of one sort or another, I was a bit overwhelmed. But then I got to enjoy learning about them, figuring out what I'd do with them this week. Sometimes I didn't get to it quickly enough and it would spoil, but mostly it worked out well and I enjoyed the challenge.

I live in Manhattan, and we have to pick up our shares at one of the local community centers. I see a lot of people mention that their shares are dropped off at their homes. This is of course convenient and nice, but I wonder how/if this effects the sense of "community" for a CSA. The once-a-week pickups are a time to see other CSA shareholders, say hello, etc., even if only briefly. It's kind of like "market day."

Anyway, to the original poster, I'd first ask where you're located, what's the growing season, etc? Talk to others in your CSA. Voice your reservations, there might be good responses to them. Let the entire season progress before making any decisions. The CSA might start to grow on you. :smile:

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We joined a CSA last year but because of our irregular eating habits, we dropped it because I found we were wasting too much.

They were sending us Golden Beets in the fall and they were so sweet and delicious I can still taste them in my mind.

When planting season rolls around, you can believe I will plant some of those.

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Joining a CSA could be considered an investment, both in the farmer, and in the consumer. The farmer needs cash flow throughout the year, including the "less than prime" growing season (i.e., now, in the Pac. Northwest). The farmer also needs a market for his/her goods (i.e., members). The consumer gains confidence in the source-path of the food. As well, the consumer dollar remains in the community.

Aside for the general feeling that I could get more for my money shopping at Whole Paycheck who the hell wants to eat turnip greens and turnips twice a week. I feel like I'm back at my Parent's house where I eat what's put in front of me.
local... seasonal... what else is growing in your region right now? Greens is where it's at. I suppose you could pickle the turnips for later (i.e., in the summer, when it's too hot to grown them). Turnips are really sweet right now, are they not?

Not everyone's cooking/shopping style will fit within the realm of a happy CSA experience. It really helped me to know the farmers personally, before joining, so that I was familiar with their crops and, more importantly, the quality of product. This year we did not have a "regular" CSA, it was more a series of hopeful emails, asking community members to purchase the crop on an ad hoc basis.

To the OP: this year (08) has been difficult for many farmers in terms of crop variety and quality. If you can find a way to use the turnips, etc., or preserve them, kudos; hang in there for another season. If you decide to leave the CSA, perhaps you will let them know why.

Karen Dar Woon

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And, you know, you could always start a thread on greens and we'd all share some of our favorite recipes.

Really, though, you should be getting some winter squashes, potatoes, onions, that kind of stuff as well as greens at this time of year.

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I joined a CSA for the first time about two months ago, and I think it's not an experience I need to repeat.  Every week a 13 dollar bag of Hakurei Turnips, one small baggie of salad greens, a bunch of arugala and a couple of lonely radishes arrives.  Usually there is my surprise for the week, a head of tat soi or a single sweet potato the size of a child's fist. 

Aside for the general feeling that I could get more for my money shopping at Whole Paycheck who the hell wants to eat turnip greens and turnips twice a week.  I feel like I'm back at my Parent's house where I eat what's put in front of me.

I know it's part of being a good foodie to think that CSA's are the be all, end all but I think I'm though.  Anyone else had the same experience?  Is this just a bad CSA or a bad season?

It seems that the Washington Post Food Blogger who reported on her weekly CSA experiences is in agreement with you, so were a few other people who responded to her article during yesterday's live online chat:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/conte...8120200734.html

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And, you know, you could always start a thread on greens and we'd all share some of our favorite recipes.

Really, though, you should be getting some winter squashes, potatoes, onions, that kind of stuff as well as greens at this time of year.

What we got this past week in addition to the greens was

1 small 4 inch butternut squash

1 small bunch (1/2 a dozen) scallions.

2 oranges

3 radishes with their greens

1 small bunch of dill

Really I'm not complaining too much because we do enjoy the greens and with just the two of us have to work to use up our allotment before the next pick up. We have a 1/2 share so every other week.

I like the idea of a CSA. I want fresh organic vegetables, I want the farmers to succeed and make money so their gardens can grow. I want sustainability, I want more vegies!! :)

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Thanks for all the responses. I live (ironically enough in light of the Post article) in the Maryland suburbs of DC. And somewhat for the record, the share is a 13 week fall share so I had been hoping for some more fall vegetables (squash, more sweet potatos)

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I live in Massachusetts and tried a CSA this past summer - never again, for a couple reasons. Some already mentioned here:

Not enough choice - too heavy on the greens to get thru in one week, but one lousy little cuke in the middle of the summer.

I was lucky - since I live by myself and travel a lot for biz, I split my share w/neighbors. That way, if I knew I wouldn't use produce, I would give more than my fair share to them so it wouldn't go to waste, but it was a waste of money.

My biggest concern was that I had been a strong supporter of my local farmer's market and made friends with many of them over the years. I felt I was deserting them to support one farmer. I will go back to them next year - also better b/c you buy what you want and in quantities you need.

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  • 4 weeks later...

I wouldn't say I hated my CSA experience. There were many positives (e.g., the difference between free range organic eggs vs. the stuff you get at the grocery, discovering how great ground cherries are).

However, my main issues are the varieties. I don't understand why my CSA plants the same varieties of fruit and veggies that I can find in my grocery store (actually, for cukes, my grocery carries way more varieties).

I wish they would plant different varieties then the stuff you can find.

When I've gone anywhere else, I find the fruit and vegetables to taste much better. I was hoping that the CSA would provide that experience because I had (in my own mind theorized) thought that it was the variety of carrots, cuke, cherries, peaches that were being planted and sold. Do other countries have access to better (perhaps not as abundent) fruits and vegies?

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I'll agree with others here that your CSA does not appear to be quite up to speed, and that for your location, this is not the best time to join.

Part of the CSA experience, also, is to recognize the cycles of Nature. You accept and appreciate what Nature gives you through the seasons. Even in northern California, my weekly CSA boxes are skimpy in the winter, and the potatoes, squashes, and other root vegetables coming out of storage can be a little scuzzy around the edges. But the winter boxes balance out the lush and abundant CSA boxes I receive in the summer and early fall. That's the natural cycle!

Have you voiced your dissatisfactions to your CSA? A new CSA may need some time and feedback to get into gear. My CSA is very established and grows over 90 crops a year. But as one of the farm owners said to me ruefully, it took years for them to learn how to do that and to satisfy their CSA customers.

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I've belonged to my CSA for 2 seasons now, and I'll admit, there have been a couple of weeks when I've felt a little bit the same as the OP when I got my share home and spread it out on the kitchen counter, and said to myself, is this all? Or, what am I going to do with all this _____? There were definately some lean weeks where I probably could have gotten more for my weekly cost at the Farmer's Market. There were also definately some weeks where I would have been happy to never see a huge bunch of fresh basil or 12 heirloom tomatoes ever again.

But, on balance, I know that my CSA has been an amazing experience. The work requirement means I am out at the farm at least 3 mornings a season, harvesting, cleaning, and packing that week's share. So I am connected, and I understand why I am only getting one little eggplant, or why there are only enough watermelons for the partial shares. Without my CSA, I wouldn't have disovered that I love rainbow chard, or kohlrabi. I wouldn't wax poetic about a pasta sauce of tomatoes and leeks. I wouldn't have stood in a feild in front of a fence of climbing rattlesnake beans next to my farmer, and fell in love with the taste 10 seconds off the vine.

Sure, I could go to the Farmer's Market and pick out my own. Some weeks I would spend more, some weeks less. But I love the simplicity of having those decisions made for me. I love automatically getting the most seasonal vegetable. And I'm positivie that, averaged over the 26 week season, I get more than my money's worth.

It's funny though. My CSA says that a full share should be enough produce to feed a mostly vegetarian couple for a week. I do a full share just for me, and I am most decidedly an omnivore. On a good week with a little planning, nothing goes to waste. I may just be a mutant vegetable eating freak though, so YMMV.

"Nothing you could cook will ever be as good as the $2.99 all-you-can-eat pizza buffet." - my EX (wonder why he's an ex?)

My eGfoodblog: My corner of the Midwest

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A CSA should first be a very competent farm. The best description given to me was "farming at graduate level". Too many small upstart farms get into it without the experience to produce a great product. In many areas Farmers' Markets are costing too much to make a decent profit so they are turning more and more to the CSA model.

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I've participated in 3 very different CSAs and I really can't disagree with the down sides (feast or famine, lack of variety at times) but that's the way everyone used to eat, right? Bad year on the farm? Tough turnips :raz: Craving a watermelon in February? Think how good the one you finally get in August is going to taste!

As someone said upthread, though, the main reason I stopped subscribing was guilt over abandoning all other farmers in favor of one. We have several cooperative CSAs (the original and grandaddy of them being Rolling Prairie) that address most of the issues AND spread the risk across a greater geographic area. If all of the farms north of here get hit with a late freeze or freak hail storm, the ones south of the metro were likely spared and they can balance one another out. That also came in handy a few years ago when one of the major tomato growers lost literally everything shortly after planting. All of the other farmers pitched in and donated transplants and, after a Herculean effort, they were back on their feet relatively quickly.

I know there is a time and space crunch but you also have to be prepared to take advantage of the gluts when they occur. If you can preserve (dry, freeze, can) somehow it really helps.

All that said, they're not for everyone. But try interviewing farmers, talking to their existing customers and trying a more "in season" beginning time before you completely give up on the concept. There isn't a "one size fits all" business model on either supply or demand side. I would LOVE to join Dividend's CSA but have never been able to figure out the work shift part with my job situation; but that could change any time (especially in this economy :shock: )

Judy Jones aka "moosnsqrl"

Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.

M.F.K. Fisher

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